Looking at Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Death: Teenagers and Heroin

philip seymour hoffman  

Just a few weeks ago, Phillip Seymour Hoffman joined the ranks of John Belushi, Cory Monteith, and many other notable actors who have been victimized by heroin. It is bewildering  to think that these talented individuals who take on such lively roles in their movies and TV shows can meet such a tragic fate. You may be asking yourself what is the relevance of this to the Latin School? Sure it is terribly sad, but what does it have to with us? Heroin not only affects renowned actors, but it has recently become a crisis affecting a widespread population including young and affluent high school students. When contemplating teenage delinquencies, one typically thinks of alcohol abuse, marijuana, or even unruly behavior, but a new epidemic has struck. A recent survey of 15,425 American high school students indicates that 3 in 100 students have used heroin. 25 percent of the high school senior students surveyed said that they could easily get heroin. This is frightening.

Heroin is a powerful painkiller first derived from the opium poppy in 1874, and since 1924 has been illegal in the United States due to its addictiveness. In the past, heroin was considered a lower class drug—dealt in dark alleys and injected into the body with dirty needles. But, in recent years, it has become as easily obtainable as a 10 dollar pill and has been the cause of countless tragedies among teenagers.

This cheap, 10 dollar, pathway to euphoria allures the victims of heroin. Heroin can infiltrate the brain in as few as 7 to 8 seconds after taking it, interfering with certain receptors and causing the user to feel a rush of energy and excitement. As if heroin wasn’t dangerous enough, it has recently been laced with fentanyl, a pain-killer 80 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl enhances the rush of heroin, prolonging the high, and causing countless deaths as it impairs breathing. After the addictive high, heroin users experience sporadic episodes of drowsiness and alertness. Continuous abuse significantly changes the brain, leaving the user desperate to reattain the exhilarating high that they remember. However, one takes more and more drugs in order to achieve their previous high. Other physical repercussions induced by heroin include, heart infections, liver and kidney disease, pneumonia, HIV, and hepatitis C. Also, the receptors that it interferes with are called opioid receptors, which aids the breathing process; too much heroin intake can impair this process, causing death. The mental effect of heroin is perhaps more frightening. Someone addicted to heroin has the urge to “shoot up” or “pop a pill” every 8-12 hours. If the user cannot obtain the drug in this time window, he or she will begin a dangerous series of withdrawal symptoms. Among these symptoms are restlessness, muscle and bone pain, persisting insomnia, and diarrhea. In severe cases of addiction, withdrawal can lead to death.

Glee star Cory Monteith, who had a history of heroin abuse since he was 19, died of an overdose on July 13, 2013. On the stage, Cory Monteith played a happy, gregarious and athletic football player as well as a gifted singer who joined the glee club. Off the stage, however, Cory led a dangerously different life. After intensive visits to rehab facilities when he was 19, and sporadically afterwards, Cory bravely decided that he had rid himself of his addiction and wanted to focus on his up and coming TV show, Glee. But, nearly a year ago on a trip to Vancouver with some friends, he experienced a relapse.

Perhaps it was the exciting high that drew him back to heroin, or perhaps he never got over his addiction. Regardless of the reason, it is terrifying  in that it affects teenagers and adults all over the United States. On a more recent note, renowned actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who starred in Capote, Money Ball, and Catching Fire, recently died of a heroin overdose in his New York City apartment. After his death, a search through his apartment uncovered 70 bags of heroin pills, along with an assortment of needles and prescribed painkillers.

Ms. McCarthy, the sophomore dean and the freshman drug education teacher, commented on what Latin is doing about this issue. “The biggest thing that we can do to prevent this is educate our students, which is what we are doing in freshman drug education.” She went on to say that “it is important to let students know that if they have any problems—or if you are concerned about them—that they can talk with Ms. Stevens, the upper school counselor.”

This heroin epidemic is a scary and tragic truth that is permeating our country. Wealthy actors and adolescents are dying from heroin overdoses with seemingly no reason to resort to drugs. It is beyond me how to approach this disastrous outbreak, but it is imperative to spread the word. The first step to eradicating any chronic catastrophe is creating an awareness and desire to put an unequivocal end to it.