Pubdate: Thu, 06 Feb 2014
Source: Star-News (Wilmington, NC)
Copyright: 2014 Wilmington Morning Star
Bookmark: (Heroin Overdose)


The death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from an 
apparent heroin overdose is but a high-profile example of what plays 
out every day in Main Street America. The main difference is that 
most of those victims remain virtually anonymous, statistical 
casualties in a futile war on drugs.

Hoffman died Sunday in a New York, but our corner of North Carolina 
is not immune to the addiction that drives the illegal drug trade. 
Commenting on the latest crime report, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph 
Evangelous blamed heroin as a factor in the recent increase in 
violent crimes. It's cheaper than ever, and more potent. Also more deadly.

Drug addiction in fact is responsible for much of the crime in our 
region, nonviolent as well as violent. Addicts steal or deal to feed 
their habit; deadly turf wars are fought by gang members who engage 
in dealing and trafficking.

The battle against addiction fought by Hoffman, an abundantly 
talented actor who had seemingly beaten addiction years before, only 
to relapse in recent years, illustrates the difficulty of solving 
this societal problem. He was found dead with a needle in his arm and 
nearly 50 heroin packets -- some empty -- nearby. New York police say 
the stuff sells for as little as $6 a hit.

As police investigated Hoffman's death, high-potency heroin mixed 
with the synthetic narcotic fentanyl was blamed for recent deaths in 
several states. Preliminary tests did not show the presence of 
fentanyl, which can be far more potent than pure heroin, in the 
packets of heroin found in Hoffman's apartment. But the additive is 
no stranger to Wilmington. In 2006 police reported that 
fentanyl-laced heroin may have killed at least four people in the 
Cape Fear region.

Law enforcement has put untold amounts of money into efforts to 
prevent drug smuggling, and to prevent trafficking of both illegal 
substances and legitimate medicines that are peddled illegally, such 
as Oxycontin and other opiate painkillers.

Ironically, the surge in heroin use may be the direct result of the 
crackdown on illicit sales of prescription drugs.

What have we to show for our efforts? Prisons full of people, streets 
full of dealers, gangs shooting at each other's members, lives and 
families torn apart, people dying too soon. Not all fit the 
stereotype of the hard-living celebrity or down-and-out junkie. 
Victims over the past decade included teenagers, twenty-somethings 
and middle-age adults. One victim was a schoolteacher, at least one 
other a college student.

Enforcement efforts result in a revolving prison door with little 
attention to tackling the addiction epidemic. The justice system does 
not have sufficient resources to treat addicts, in or out of prison. 
That has to change, but it is only part of the solution. Addiction is 
a lifelong fight. Even those who have been clean for years are 
susceptible to falling back into old habits, as Hoffman's tragic 
story reminds us.

Prevention is the obvious answer, but more difficult than "just say 
no." We must focus on our children and show them that there are 
options out there far beyond the drugs and crime that may be all too 
common in their neighborhood. Many community organizations as well as 
the police are investing in such programs, but we need more.

That will cost us, but so does prison. Moreover, the human toll of 
addiction is a cost we should all find unacceptable. 
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