Stories of Heroin and Opioid Addiction and Overdose – An Equal Opportunity Destroyer
There’s no denying the surge in heroin abuse and opioid addiction. More Americans die every year from drug overdoses than they do in vehicle crashes. The majority of those deaths can be traced to opioids, both heroin and prescription painkillers. In October 2015, President Obama weighed in on the epidemic and announced federal initiatives aimed at this issue.
Formerly associated with back alleys and junkies “shooting dope” in flophouses, heroin now receives coverage from mainstream media giants. Today, though, the powerfully addictive drug has made its way in to rural communities and suburban neighborhoods. Fatal overdoses from heroin and opioid pain medications have taken the lives of famous people as well as the everyday woman and man.
Stories of Addiction and Overdose
Philip Seymour Hoffman – the Oscar award winning actor checked himself into a 10 day detox, in 2013, after a relapse of snorting heroin. After a period of using prescription pills, he admitted that he moved to heroin. In February 2014, a friend went to Hoffman’s Manhattan apartment and found him dead, with a needle in his arm. His death was ruled an overdose of heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamines. Hoffman was 46 years old.
Dana Reisman – a former cheerleader and swimmer on her school’s team, Dana battled the cycle of addiction, treatment and relapse. Her mother, Kim Farinick, shares the story of the family’s vacation during a period of sobriety for Dana, believing that her daughter’s outlook was changing for the better. Not long after that trip, Dana’s parents found her collapsed in the hallway. She passed from an accidental overdose at the age of 22. Her mother believes that if she’d had Naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, Dana might have had a chance.
Janis Joplin – the iconic queen of the ’60’s rock and roll movement was known for, as music historian Tom Moone wrote, “…a devastatingly original voice.” After she failed to show up to a recording session, in October 1970, her producer went to Joplin’s home and found her on the floor, near her bed. She died from a heroin overdose. It’s believed that the heroin she used was unusually strong because several of her dealers other customers overdosed that week as well. Joplin was 27.
Taylor Green – growing up outside of St. Louis, Taylor was prescribed Adderall and Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. His mother, Marilyn Smashey, relates the story and says Taylor didn’t always like the way the drugs made him feel. At age 14, he started smoking marijuana because, as his mother says, “It made him feel normal.” Taylor’s grades and behavior took a turn for the worse, and he was sent to live with his father. For a time, he showed improvement. But in December of 2009, Taylor’s mother found him already passed away from a heroin overdose in his room. His eyes were still open. Taylor was 18 years old.
Heath Ledger – the Australian born actor is best known for his role as The Joker in “The Dark Knight,” which people close to Ledger say had taken a physical toll on the actor. He reportedly took Ambien to deal with his insomnia, though it didn’t work for him. In January 2008, his housekeeper phoned 911 and reported that Ledger wasn’t breathing. CPR was unsuccessful. His death was ruled an accidental overdose and an autopsy found oxycodone, hydrocodone as well as a mix of benzodiazepines. Ledger was 29. While heroin didn’t play a part in his death, he had previously battled a heroin problem, which some say he kicked with the help of fellow actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Kent – a handsome, energetic young man, he sang in his school choir, was a Boy Scout and volunteered in the tech-booth of his church every Sunday. Kent’s mother says his problems started around the age of 15, and after he didn’t come home one night, his parents had him drug tested. Over time, Kent cleaned his act up and even asked to go to a new school. He had a brief run in with pain medication after getting his wisdom teeth pulled at 17, but after moving out of the house, supporting himself and attending college, Kent appeared to be doing great. In September 2003, Kent, along with a few friends, crushed up some OxyContin and ingested it with beer. The effects of the opioid and alcohol stopped his breathing while he slept. Kent was 19.
Cory Monteith – Best known for his role on the television show “Glee,” the Canadian-born Monteith died at the young age of 31 years old. He suffered from substance abuse as a teenager and first entered rehab when he was 19, and again in early 2013. In July of that year, he was found dead in his Vancouver hotel room from a lethal mix of heroin and alcohol. The year he died, he was memorialized at both The Emmy Awards and The Grammy Awards.
This is a tiny sample of tragic deaths caused by either heroin or opioid pain medications. Healthcare providers, in 2012 alone, wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medications, enough for every adult in the U.S. to have a bottle. Abuse or misuse of opioid pain medication often turns into a heroin addiction because of the similar chemical makeup and physiological effects.
Though the country is far from solving this problem, public awareness of opioid addiction is at an all time high. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain. Treatment can be incredibly effective and with more support and awareness of treatment options, there is hope that the future will be more positive than the past.
Philip Seymour Hoffman photo by Georges Biard
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