Thursday, February 6, 2014


By now, you have all heard the tragic news about actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Like many, I followed his career for a number of years as he developed from character actor to leading man. He was, easily, one of the most interesting actors working in Hollywood. What many never knew was that he was also a recovering addict.

I remember reading an article last year where he discussed his struggle to remain sober. I was surprised, but happy that he seemed to be keeping it together. A few months ago, my heart sank to learn that he was in rehab, coping with a heroin relapse.

If you have read The Check Out, you know that there is a character who struggles with an addiction to alcohol and pills. His marriage is ruined by inability to stay sober, and his life crumbles around him. 

The character of Brad is a nod to noir archetypes, to  be sure. However, he is more than that. He is an acknowledgement to friends of mine that have wrestled with their own sobriety. There are so many of people out there, mostly hidden in a cloak of anonymity, that feel a sense of accomplishment from going one more day without taking a drink or hit.

Their conflict is one that is routinely ignored by American society as a whole. Worse yet, addicts are even viewed with scorn; worthless dropouts of society with no place in our culture. There's no denying that addiction leads many to partake in crimes like theft; however, writing off all of these individuals is a cruel act.

While Americans tend to react to drug users with jail sentences, other countries have taken to treating them as medical patients. In most of these countries, this approach tends to be working. Drug rates fall, and relapses happen less frequently. In my opinion, police are also allowed the time to pursue violent criminals when they are not bogged down with meaningless drug arrests that fill arbitrary quotas.

The death of someone like Hoffman has allowed the country to see a new face of drug addiction. For the first time, perhaps, the average Joe is realizing that heroin users aren't nameless junkies who litter alleyways. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, fire fighters, cooks, waiters, construction workers, and actors. They are real people who are fighting a daily battle to stay clean. They are the people who serve us coffee, stock our grocery shelves, or fill our television screens.

If there is any sense to the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I hope it comes in the form of understanding. I hope it allows a conversation to take place that will allow our views to change on drug policy. I hope it prevents another senseless death of a worthwhile human being.   


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