Heroin Overdoses Do Occur Outside Hollywood


“Oh my God. What is it with Hollywood? Philip Seymour Hoffman, Corey Monteith, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston . . .

“What is going on in Hollywood so that all these stars are overdosing?”

Questions asked (paraphrased here) of Joe Schrank in a recent interview shortly after Hoffman’s death. Joe is a recovery advocate, an addiction specialist and was featured in The Anonymous People.  He had a great response: “If you were to follow accountants around with cameras, you would also see an addiction problem.”

Addiction respects no one’s economic status, but the media does

This post isn’t meant to be about Hoffman’s death, although like probably every other person in recovery, I feel immense sadness over the loss of another brilliant mind and gifted soul.  This post is about the abject abhorrence I feel toward the media sharks that frenetically jumped into the story’s bloody waters.

It’s disgusting and makes me want to rip my coveted journalism degree off my office wall and heave it into the trash bin.

The inflamed story:  A Hollywood star with scads of money–a junkie–found with a syringe hanging out of his arm and hundreds of heroin packets lying around his apartment.

Cue the viewership.  Dial in the readership.  News editors shouting from desks coast to coast (and probably around the world): “This story has legs folks, and will for some time, so get as much mileage out of it as you can!”

Are you sick of it yet?  Are you tired of the sensationalized and impersonalized “reporting?” Do you find yourself wondering how the snuffed-out essence of the man who was Philip Seymour Hoffman got lost in the race for ratings?

I can’t stop thinking about it, about the apartment in New York where one moment there was a living being and the next moment his breath was simply gone.

The stigma of addiction

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 100 people die every day from a drug overdose. The number parallels a nearly 300% increase since 1999 in the sale of prescription painkillers, a precursor, if you will, to heroin.

Yes, big name celebrities are dying.  But so many more are dying in cities like Columbus, OH, Albuquerque, NM, and Charlotte, NC.

Regular people, living regular lives, some trying to find recovery, others simply struggling to find themselves.

Time Magazine reported that Hoffman didn’t have to die. This sentence caught my eye: “The stigma of addiction and the lack of organized advocacy for affected people have been the biggest barriers to change.”

But what does “stigma of addiction” really mean?  Some people say they don’t buy the whole addiction-is-a-disease story.  They think people with addiction could quit if they really wanted to or just tried hard enough.

Yeah, tell that to the families of the recently deceased.

This article in The Fix does a nice job of explaining stigma:  “Stigma impacts us all, both consciously and unconsciously, and is perhaps the single largest contributor to the mortality rate.”

Consider these eight points, and then go to the link for a full explanation:

  1. 1.  People fail to seek treatment.
  2. 2.  The medical profession fails to treat addicts properly.
  3. 3.  The mental health profession ostracizes people with addictive disorders.
  4. 4.  Funding for addiction treatment is discriminatory.
  5. 5.  Addicts get sent to jail.
  6. 6.  Even when people do get to treatment, stigmatization can continue and contribute to poor treatment outcomes.
  7. 7.  People in recovery are always under suspicion.
  8. 8.  They confront stigma-based roadblocks constantly

The good news is that thanks to recovery advocates like Joe Schrank, movies like The Anonymous People and campaigns like ManyFaces1Voice.org, as well as regular people like you and me, the tide is slowly shifting about attitudes toward addiction.  We have a voice and our voices have power.

Plus, there are signs that some folks in Hollywood are also getting sick of the dramatic, minutia-driven media coverage about celebrity overdoses.  Thank God!  May the souls of all those lost rest peacefully knowing that there are tens of thousands of us determined to become an “organized advocacy for affected people.”

You’re welcome to join us.  ManyFaces1Voice.

Photo courtesy of wallyir

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  1. Thanks so much for this Beth. You are right, everything people in Hollywood do gets sensationalized, even their overdoses – because it sells. That’s the bottom line… When the pulic stops buying, gauranteed they will find something else to sell. The 100 person per day stat from the CDC is startling!! Slowly but surely things are starting to change, thanks to the things that you and others are doing that are so critical. Rock on my friend!!

  2. Ron Grover says:

    It’s almost if we are obligated to write about the tragedy of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and all of the famous people suffering from this terrible disease.

    It is not a famous person disease as you said. It affects people regardless of their status or talent. How many does it take till we as a nation get serious about working the real drug problem. We have been doing the same thing, “war on drugs” for over 50 years. If we are fighting a war and the strategy is failing then it is time we change the strategy.

    What about all the others? All the others each day that die from this and their life isn’t the lead story on the world news? http://parentsofanaddict.blogspot.com/2014/02/dont-forget-all-others.html

    • Beth says:

      You hit the nail on the head, Ron. Obligated is such a good word. I think our recovery advocacy movement–through the national (and international) dialogue about how society treats and perceives the disease of addiction–is chipping away at the failed strategy you refer to. Inch by inch . . .

      Thanks for commenting!! Hope all is well with you and you’re staying warm!

      • Ron Grover says:


        I just read my comment again and I’d like to modify it a pinch. After 50 years our current “war on drug addicts” has failed. If only we had a real “war on drugs and addiction” it would look very different from what we do now.

  3. LaDonna Coy says:

    Thank you Beth for the wisdom and insight. Sadly, we seem to talk about it on a large scale when someone significant (as determined by the media) dies tragically. Then not much if anything changes until the next headline. Sigh.

    Thank you for the invitation to join and organize to advocate. I think we can bring the threads of prevention, recovery and wellness together for weaving a new kind of tapestry of what it means to live and be well in the world; to feel valued, to know that we each belong and have a purpose to fulfill. We still have so much to learn .. together.

    • Beth says:


      I like the way you think! I love your words and think they’re incredibly important for us to really sit with and yes, learn how to weave them together. Good stuff and I’m so glad you’ve accepted the invitation!

  4. Great post Beth and your point is well taken. It is sad to watch the media frenzy. As I was watching one of the news reports about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death and they mentioned the new campaign that will be run on TV soon with expensive ads to make teens aware of the dangers of cigarette smoking. While this is a worthy cause, very worthy in fact, why are there not major campaigns run on TV during prime time to make our kids aware of the dangers of substance abuse. I don’t understand why the government doesn’t set aside some money for this to happen. Put aside the other things that aren’t working and put some money behind turning the tide on drug use in whatever way we can. I agree with Ron, clearly what we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked, so let’s use the brain power that we all know is there, and do something that will be effective.

    • Beth says:

      Brain power, you’re right, Cathy! Yes, at some point we have to really stop doing the inept just because it’s always been done that way. There are great brains out there, and hearts, and backbones! I think we’re on to something and continue to pray that the tipping point is not far away.

  5. From Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”…

    I make my living off the Evening News
    Just give me something-something I can use
    People love it when you lose,
    They love dirty laundry

    We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
    Comes on at five
    She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam
    In her eye
    It’s interesting when people die-
    Give us dirty laundry

    Kick ’em when they’re up
    Kick ’em when they’re down
    Kick ’em when they’re up
    Kick ’em all around

    The sensationalism has to stop. The reality of addiction, treatment, and recovery must come to the forefront. We need research, efficacious interventions – action! And a good portion of love.

    I appreciate your passionate and hard work, Beth…


  6. Beth says:

    I only knew the refrain of this song, Bill. I had no idea the depth of the rest of the lyrics. Wow. You continue to blow me away. I love that you’re a music guy; I’ve noticed the references on some of your blog posts. Very cool–and very insightful. Thank you.

  7. YES to all 3 questions, “Are you sick of it yet? Are you tired of the sensationalized and impersonalized “reporting?” Do you find yourself wondering how the snuffed-out essence of the man who was Philip Seymour Hoffman got lost in the race for ratings?”

  8. …ops – I hit send before I was done. And wouldn’t it be fantastic if they took on sharing the science of the brain disease of addiction, addiction treatment and recovery and celebrated those in recovery and how true “health” care would go a long ways to preventing addiction as it would be addressing the key risk factors along the way – early use, mental illness, childhood trauma and genetics, for example. Something like what we saw happen with HIV/Aids – once it got money, press and celebrity power behind it, the shift – the removal of the stigma – the research – the medications – the prevention methods – astounding. This is what we need for addiction. Thanks for writing this call to action, Beth!!

  9. Beth says:

    And thanks to you, Lisa, for lending your passion and compassion to the cause. We can do this!!

  10. Great post that I totally agree with, Beth!

    I find it sad that the media – which I was a part of myself for many years – only gives airtime to the disease of addiction when someone famous is a victim.

    I wrote about it on my blog the other day, and hope you don’t mind me posting the link.


    • Beth says:

      Looks like you and I have been thinking similar thoughts, Gary. I have to say though, after “listening” to the conversation around PSH’s death for a week, this time feels a bit different with the media exchange. It helps that several other Hollywood-types are coming forward with their stories and with a desire to be heard as a person in recovery, not simply as a famous person. It may be a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Let’s take it!

      Of course it’s okay to post your blog here! The more like minds melding together, the better!

      Thanks so much for your comment. Please stop by again!

  11. Peg Q says:

    Great editorial as always! The fire still burns inside of you to write great thoughts! Thanks for sharing with the world.

    • Beth says:

      Hey Peg!

      Great to hear from you! Yes, due in large part to your guidance and encouragement, I’m still fighting the good fight. The national conversation is shifting and we’ve made some decent strides, but as you know, we have a long, long ways to go before addiction and recovery are a part of our everyday conversation.

      Thanks for adding your comment!

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