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Editorial | Drug addiction is national, not personal, failure

Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 06:02

Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died on Sunday of an apparent heroin overdose, and once again discussions of drug addiction have entered the national media spotlight. Death by overdose is a common sight in the modern American landscape and Hoffman was just the latest high-profile example — the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a whopping 105 people die from drug overdoses every single day in the United States, 78 percent of which are accidental. Yet despite these staggering statistics, the conversation surrounding addiction rarely focuses on taking action toward reform. Not until we, as a country, are prepared to have a serious discussion about ending the failed war on drugs and supporting state-sponsored rehabilitation and medical treatment can we claim that the death of our celebrities, neighbors and friends are not in vain.

The chronic nature of drug addiction is exemplified by Hoffman’s case — the actor had reportedly been clean for 23 years before relapsing and checking himself into a drug rehab facility last year. Indeed, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 40 to 60 percent of all drug addicts will relapse after becoming sober. Chronic diseases are not approached with quick fixes and definitive answers — we don’t treat diabetics with one shot of insulin and send them on their way.

While it may be convenient to blame addiction on moral shortcomings, we are also afraid to examine why people turn to drugs in the first place. Rarely do we discuss the cultural norms, societal expectations and evolving state of human relationships that often lead to drug addiction. How is it that such an overwhelming health problem goes relatively unmentioned until someone whose name is Buzzfeed worthy is found dead in their condominium?

The consequences of drug addiction play out in our courts as legal transactions instead of as constructive solutions. Every year, we imprison thousands of addicts consumed by illegal drugs: while it is important to consider the harm that drug criminalization has had on our society, we must also consider the effects of not talking about drug abuse happening right now in our family rooms, kitchens and high school bathrooms.

The shock surrounding Hoffman’s tragic death is just another example of American hypocrisy when approaching the discussion on drug addiction. He will be commemorated at film ceremonies and memorialized by fans; his exceptional acting legacy will endure long after he is buried. But what about the other 105 people that overdosed in America today? They may not be newsworthy, but they should not forgotten.

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