I do wish all the world would shut the fuck up about the “heroin epidemic” that is underway in the United States. Is there a heroin epidemic? No. Heroin use seems to have been on the rise for the last decade or so, but there isn’t anything especially dramatic about its rise. Drug use waxes and wanes over time, just as do all human behaviors that are not physical necessities. But all day long, I’ve been treated to scare articles about how many people are using heroin and how many people are dying from heroin and this new super potent heroin. I want to rip my fucking hair out.
It is sad that Philip Seymour Hoffman has died of what looks like a heroin overdose. He has a long history with the drug. I don’t doubt that there is some amount of psychic pain that is involved with all of this. I also don’t doubt that this had something to do with his skill as an actor. When I recently saw A Late Quartet, I thought that Hoffman’s highly emotional performance seemed pretty close to the surface, as though there wasn’t a great deal of difference between actor and character. But I gather that is true for a lot of actors. Regardless, audiences always seem to want great artists but are intolerant of what they see as their non-productive habits.
Can’t we leave this man in peace? He was a fine actor. But now he is being turned into an unwilling spokesman for the “ain’t heroin awful” campaign. This is, of course, the campaign that seems only interested in “helping” addicts by throwing them in jail. And it is only sad when a junkie dies if he’s famous. The truth is that junkies die all the time and no one gives half a fuck about them. In fact, as I’ve argued at length elsewhere, most people just want junkies to crawl away and die so the society doesn’t have to deal with them. And the legal status of the drug and the treatment of its users bears this out.
What’s going on with Philip Seymour Hoffman is the same thing that goes on with heroin users all over the nation. He is losing his individuality in order to paint him as the face of heroin addiction. But he’s a lucky one. I suspect that in 20 years, he will be remembered for a handful of movies he made. That is as it should be. This media blitz will not last. But that doesn’t make it any less disrespectful. And here I’m not just talking about Hoffman. I’m even more focused on all the heroin users who just don’t matter to anyone in the nation except in so far as it can vote for another “three strikes” law or another “get tough on crime” politician.
I would much rather people just admitted that they didn’t care. After all, would it be any less sad if Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of cancer or in a rock climbing accident? And in my experience, when people start talking about “heroin epidemics,” their solutions are most likely bigger penalties for drug crimes. When I see someone riffing off Hoffman’s death for the purpose of providing greater access to methadone treatment, I’ll be on board. But that’s not what I’ve seen. And I’ve been following this stuff for over two decades.