Philip Seymour Hoffman Overdose Puts Heroin Addiction Back In Spotlight
‘It saddens me it takes someone like Philip to die for everyone to pay attention.’ – Cary Quashen of Action Family Counseling and the Action Family Foundation in Santa Clarita
Whatever the reasons for the Feb. 2 heroin overdose of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, his death at age 46 is a dark tragedy all around, except for one positive glimmer.
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“Hoffman’s death put the nation’s heroin and opiate-based pill epidemic back in the spotlight, and awareness and education about the problem are where the solution begins,” said Cary Quashen, founder/CEO of the Santa Clarita-based Action Family Counseling drug and alcohol rehab centers and the non-profit Action Family Foundation.
“It just shows again that no one is exempt from drug addiction – it can happen to anybody,” said Quashen, also host of the “Families in Action” drug education radio program heard on KHTS AM-1220 Mondays at noon.
“I'm never surprised when I hear about something like this,” he said. “Am I saddened? Of course.
“But what really saddens me the most is it takes someone like Phillip to die for everyone to pay attention,” Quashen said. “All of a sudden, it's all over the news. There was this funeral a couple days later for a 20-year-old girl – never made the newspaper, never made the news. It's like it never happened. Phillip passes away and everybody's jumping in and paying attention.”
(For example, Hoffman is on the cover of the latest edition of Rolling Stone, published this week; a feature and celebrity tributes inside.)
“So I hope Hoffman’s death wasn't for nothing,” Quashen said.
RELATED: Read the KHTS ‘It Takes a Village’ Features about Drugs in the SCV Santa Clarita’s Slate Clean for 2014 – So Far
Santa Clarita Valley heroin and opiate-related overdoses were down significantly in 2013 – four compared to 14 the year before, according to Bob Wachsmuth of the SCV Sheriff Station’s Juvenile Intervention Team – thanks to a concerted effort by our community.
A three-pronged anti-heroin campaign – education, prevention and intervention, adopted and coordinated in late 2011 by the city of Santa Clarita,, Wachsmuth and the J-Team, the local L.A. County courts, the Hart school district, and Action – was just gaining traction by late 2012.
The rubber was meeting the road in 2013, as the dramatic drop in deaths shows.
In 2014, the slate is clean – no overdose deaths in the Clarita Valley as of the end of January, Wachsmuth said, as the community effort continues.
National Heroin and Pill Overdoses Spike
But nationally, heroin overdose rates have jumped 45 percent, according to Drug Enforcement Agency officials. More than 13 million Americans are abusing opiate-based Oxycodone, with the misuse of Oxycodone and other prescription painkillers causing as many as 500,000 emergency room visits each year, according to the DEA.
“I hope everyone really opens their eyes now and realizes that drugs are here,” Quashen said.
“Heroin is here, it's here with a vengeance. I've been saying this now for over two years: The heroin epidemic we are having right now is worse than any heroin epidemic we have ever had.”
Quashen, a former addict who’s been sober and operating successful rehab centers for more than three decades, has seen this trend first-hand through his Action clients in the Santa Clarita Valley and other Southern California communities.
“People talk about heroin in the '70s – heroin is way different today,” he said. “First of all, it's cheaper and easier to get now. It's way more accepted, because in the '70s, people didn't smoke heroin – they shot it. And the only people who shot heroin were junkies doing it behind closed doors.
“Today, (heroin) is not something people start by shooting,” he said. “They start by smoking it. It's kind of a designer drug, and very well-accepted among everybody. What happens is, people who said, ‘I'll never shoot dope, I'm not a junkie,’ will start by smoking it. That’s just a gateway into shooting.”
Overdoses from abuse of opiate-based prescription painkillers have also exploded over the past few decades, and there’s a direct connection to the spike in heroin use and deaths, Quashen said.
This is one reason why authorities and doctors are now tightening restrictions on prescriptions.
“We have had such an opiate prescription pill epidemic and explosion that two things have happened,” he said. “First, doctors are getting smarter and it's getting harder for people to get these pills now. So they start buying them off the street. They go to a dealer. Then the dealer runs out and says, ‘You know what, I don't have any of these Oxys, but I have some heroin – and it's a whole lot less expensive, and it does exactly the same thing.’ Now they're paying $10 or $20 for something that would cost them a whole lot more to get the same high. So, there's a lot of different reasons that heroin has gotten so prevalent.”
Today’s Heroin More Dangerous than Ever
Second, Quashen said, today’s heroin also differs from ‘70s dope because of what dealers are
now adding to powdered heroin, or cutting it with, to increase the quantity they can sell.
“They’re cutting heroin now with fentanyl, another kind of pain reliever, so really you're getting a double whammy here,” Quashen said. “We're getting more and more overdoses all throughout the country right now. So you never really know what you're getting – what's really in it. It's super, super dangerous, super, super deadly, and we're losing way too many people.”
The Nation Could Take a Lesson from Santa Clarita’s Success
“We need to, as a society, keep doing what we're doing in Santa Clarita,” he said. “We need to keep educating people and getting that knowledge out there, and it's evident it works because the number of deaths '13 was way down from '12.
A three-pronged anti-heroin campaign – education, prevention and intervention, adopted and coordinated in late 2011 by Wachsmuth and the J-Team, the local L.A. county courts, the city of Santa Clarita, the Hart school district, and Action – was just gaining traction by late 2012.
Heroin a ‘No-Try Drug’ Because There’s No Cure for Addiction
“The other message we need to get out about heroin – that's a no-try drug,” he said. “It only takes once to get emotionally addicted and just a couple times to get physically addicted. It's just a no-try drug.”
That Hoffman had been clean for 23 years before relapsing last year underscores the grip of addiction as a disease that never lets go.
“For alcohol and drug addiction, there is no cure,” Quashen said. “Addiction is a disease for which there is no cure. Any kind of opiate addiction, untreated, becomes deadly, obviously.
“But here's the deal: Somebody addicted to alcohol or drugs can stay sober for three weeks or 30 years,” he said. “The disease doesn't stop. It's still there. So when they pick up (drinking or using drugs) again, very shortly they're right back to where they were and they emotionally need more drugs than the body can handle. That’s what happens. That's when they lose.”
For more information, visit actionfamily.org or call the Action Family Zone at 661-467-2741.
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