Hoffman, addiction and a 'broken culture'

A makeshift memorial of flowers and photographs in front of Philip Seymour Hoffman's apartment. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption What does Philip Seymour Hoffman's death tell us?

News of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, apparently from heroin overdose, spread quickly on Sunday - perhaps too quickly, according to Salon's Stacia L Brown. She worries that the media are so eager to be the first to report on a story, using social media to hype "breaking news", that they have little regard for the consequences.

"Twitter and, within the space of 17 minutes, the Internet-accessing world may have known that Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead in his apartment before his three young children, with whom he was scheduled to spend the day, and his long-time partner, Mimi O'Donnell," she writes.

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Media captionAuthor Will Self on the allure of heroin

Now that a few days have passed, attention turns to heroin, the war on drugs and addiction.

Writer Will Self tells BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman that Mr Hoffman's death shows anyone can be an addict.

"Addiction is no respecter of persons," he says. "There's hardly anywhere you can point a finger high or low in society and not hit somebody who has got addiction issues."

He goes on to discuss the nature of heroin, its perception as a "loser's drug" and how opiates are a corruption of modern medicine.

The Telegraph's Damian Thompson believes people shouldn't be puzzled that "clean and sober" recovering addicts can so quickly relapse, with tragic consequences.

"For many - perhaps most - addicts, the addictive urge doesn't leave you just because you've stopped using drugs, or drinking, or gambling, or gazing for hours at internet porn, or bingeing on cupcakes until you make yourself sick," he writes.

Jeff Deeney of the Atlantic writes that it's a particularly hard time for heroin addicts, with infections spreading, tainted supplies and increased potency causing overdose numbers to increase by 102% between 1999-2010.

"We didn't need Philip Seymour Hoffman - by all accounts a dedicated father and universally recognized as one of the great actors of his generation - to die tragically with a needle in his arm and five empty bags of dope next to him to know this," he writes.

Corrigan Vaughan on Electric Feast contends that Mr Hoffman's death should give us insight into the plight of the non-famous addict:

When tragedies like these deaths happen to celebrities, they should be a wake-up call for the rest of us. If someone who has everything going for them can be so horribly enslaved to what they know could kill them, imagine what it's like for the average addict. Addiction is bigger than class, race, religion, or any other factor that one might hope would reduce its captive hold. Succumbing to it isn't selfish. It's horribly sad and extremely difficult to prevent, even though it is, in theory, preventable.

Addicts need to be taught basic drug safety, writes the Drug Policy Alliance's Meghan Malston. "We don't have to like a person's drug use, in fact, we can hate it," she says. "But at the very least, we need to do some very basic, lifesaving education about it."

Mr Hoffman is "yet another victim of the war on drugs", according to the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson. The solution, he argues, is to legalise drugs and treat addiction as a medical problem.

"As long as this commerce is illegal, it is totally unregulated," he writes. "Since we know that addicts will continue to buy drugs on the street, we also know that some will die from drugs that are either too potent or adulterated with other substances that could make them lethal. Is this really the intent of our drug policy? To invite users to kill themselves?"

Syndicated columnist Ben Shapiro writes that Mr Hoffman's death reflects moral decay in Hollywood:

His self-inflicted death is yet another hallmark of the broken leftist culture that dominates Hollywood, enabling rather than preventing the loss of some of its greatest talents. Libertarianism becomes libertinism without a cultural force pushing back against the penchant for sin; Hollywood has no such cultural force. In fact, the Hollywood demand is for more self-abasement, less spirituality, less principle, less standards.

We wrote more about the debate over the nature of addiction and whether it is a result of moral failings or a medical condition in an earlier blog post. As Shapiro's observations show, Mr Hoffman's death may well add more fuel to that particular fire.