Addiction is a sensitive topic and not one that I take lightly. Furthermore, I fully recognize that as someone who has never experienced addiction, I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I’d like to say a few words because there are people in my life whom I love deeply who have struggled with addiction, and people that I have known and respected who lost the battle. I have read many articles from former addicts recently about the horrors of relapse, and I’ve heard some disgusted individuals spitting fire.
Let me start by saying, I fucking love Phillip Seymour Hoffman as an actor. I’ve always felt that everything he touched turned to gold. The man had incredible talent and he was an outcast’s spirit animal. Despite his past, he wasn’t the kind of celebrity you’d expect us to lose.
So when I heard he had died of a heroin overdose, I felt something. It’s not terribly common for me to react to a “celebrity death”, but this time I couldn’t help it. At first I was pissed. At first I started ranting about the arrogance it must take to have everything in the world and just stuff your veins with poison to escape. He had children, for Christ’s-sake. How could he do that to himself? How could he let himself so needlessly die?
My anger didn’t last long. I’m no fool, I know addiction is a cruel and powerful thing. And then I felt grief. A strange kind that is reserved only for those who you never met but respected immensely. I felt sad that such a talented man’s life was cut short. That he’d never see the world recognize him as one of the best actors of his generation. That his kids would grow up without him. That there was a community of people who actually knew him hurting in the gut wrenching way that only having someone you love torn from the earth can bring.
The truth is, addiction is impossibly hard to understand unless you’ve gone through it—and I say that as someone who has never been an addict. I say that as someone who has merely seen addiction from the outside. It’s so hard to grasp something having that sort of power over you. Fully aware that if he didn’t stop he would die, but completely incapable of saving himself. Not arrogant. Not stubborn. Sick.
Addiction is a disease, and it festers even when it is dormant. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was 23 years clean when he checked into rehab in 2012, supposedly because a celebratory drink at a release party awoke the beast that at the age of 22 drove him to every drug he could get his hands on. That’s not reckless partying, that’s illness.
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is not the reason we need drug reform—every overdose is the reason we need drug reform. It’s time to stop the stigma of drug addiction and treat addicts as patients in recovery and not delinquents. If we continue to consider addicts as criminals they’ll never get help, and the instance of overdose will just keep rising. Spain, England, Switzerland, and Germany have all implemented programs to treat addicts rather than jail them, and each and every one has seen a drop in deaths, crime, and yes—usage.
Russell Brand said it best in his Guardian piece, ”tradition is the narcotic of our rulers.” And until they clean up, all the rehab clinics in the world won’t make a difference.