Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette
In the tragic wake of the death of Academy Award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from an apparent drug overdose this weekend, has put the ugly fact that heroin addiction is the US is on the rise and crosses all social and economic boundaries. Drug overdoses now kill more people than auto accidents with 105 deaths everyday. In the last ten years, heron use has more than doubled and overdoses from prescribed opiate pain killer has gone through the roof.
MSNBC’s “All In” host Chris Hayes took a look at the rise of heroin use in the United States with his guest neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, Dr. Carl Hart, who specializes in studying the effect of drugs on the populace.
Three Policies That Can Save Other Drug Users From Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Fate
by Nicole Flatow, Think Progress
As public discussion over the failed War on Drugs has escalated and politicians mull marijuana and sentencing reforms, one part of the vision is to redirect enforcement resources toward education, treatment, and other health-oriented programs that help those struggling with addiction. But for those entrenched in addiction, there are low-hanging fruit solutions passed into law in a minority of states that directly tackle the problem of stopping preventable overdose deaths.
Shielding ‘Good Samaritans’ From Prosecution
Last year, Vermont became at least the 13th state in addition to the District of Columbia to pass a law incentivizing witnesses to call 911, by explicitly providing legal protection to those witnesses who call the police for help. [..]
In many states, pharmacists and other health care professionals face criminal and civil liability for distributing naloxone to third parties – even police officers – who can administer it in an emergency situation. The drug has been described as a “miracle drug,” because it knocks opiates off receptors that make a user stop breathing, without any other known side effects. [..]
Laws are now emerging in some states to provide immunity to those professionals and laypeople, while other programs are equipping police officers with both training and kits to administer when they report to the scene. In 2012, then-White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske for the first time endorsed broader distribution of naloxone. [..]
Treating The Addiction
Hoffman’s state of New York happens to be one that already has a Good Samaritan law, and just last week state lawmakers introduced another measure to expand the availability of naloxone. But neither of these solutions work for those like Hoffman who may have overdosed alone, since individuals in the midst of an overdose can’t self-administer or call 911. For that population, Clear believes the greatest tool is increased prescription of addiction treatment drugs like buprenorphine that mimic some qualities of opioids with more limited harms. Some approved U.S. doctors are permitted to prescribe these drugs to treat opioid addiction (users can take them for a less harmful high), but (Allan) Clear told ThinkProgress even those who have been through treatment should be prescribed the drug more often, recognizing the prevalence of relapse. In France, where all doctors have since 1995 been authorized to prescribe the addiction treatment, opiate overdose deaths decreased 79 percent between 1995 and 2004, according to one study.
Hoffman and the Terrible Heroin Deaths in the Shadows
by Jeff Deeney, The Atlantic
Addiction and mortality related to heroin and other narcotics in the U.S. has been steadily on the rise for years. Should it be easier for addicts to inject as safely as possible?
Now that Hoffman is gone the one purpose his passing can offer is to bring into sharp focus the fact that overdose deaths have long been on the rise in the U.S. (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from drug overdoses increased by 102 percent between 1999 and 2010), and to more vigorously continue the discussion about what to do about it. [..]
More people are using heroin, according to a 2012 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey. The survey found that between 2007 and 2012, the number of heroin users ages 12 and up increased from 373,000 to 669,000. [..]
U.S. drug policies are shifting. Slowly, and not enough, but there is progress. Mandatory minimums are being phased out. Treatment is increasingly available to those caught up in the criminal justice system. As the Affordable Care Act begins to take effect, treatment will become more broadly funded, especially for the poor. There is concern among public health professionals, myself included, that the policy shift will fall short of what we need to change conditions for injecting drug users.
Legal pot isn’t enough. For there to be an American version of Insite, Vancouver’s celebrated, medically-supervised, legal injecting space, the U.S. would need to decriminalize entirely. If Philip Seymour Hoffman had taken his last bags to a legal injecting space, would he still be alive? Had he overdosed there, medical staff on call might have reversed it with Naloxone. Had he acquired an abscess or other skin infection, he could have sought nonjudgmental medical intervention. Perhaps injection site staff could have directed him back to treatment.
Safe injecting sites are an amazing, life saving, humanity restoring intervention we can’t have because our laws preclude them. Too frequently, heroin addicts instead utilize abandoned buildings and vacant lots to shoot up in order to evade arrest. The risk for assault, particularly sexual assault for women, in off-the-grid, hidden get-high places is incredible. Overdosed bodies are routinely pulled from such spaces in North Philadelphia. [..]
Those of us in recovery need to remain vigilant in maintaining our mental health. There is much work to be done on America’s addiction problem. It involves ensuring effective treatment, expanding the science of the field, and making sure that those who are actively using can do so in a way that is safe and dignified. There is a way to make meaning from the otherwise senseless early death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that is to let it refocus our efforts on making sure the smallest number of people possible find the same fate.
Phil Hoffman’s death was a shock to his, family, his friends and his many fans. May this terrible loss bring attention to much needed reform of drug policies and laws, as well as, a change in attitude in how we approach drug addiction in the US. If in death Phillip saves one life, he will not have died in vain.