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We can prevent fatal ODs like Hoffman’s

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Story highlights

Writers: Actor Hoffman's death one of 105 people who die each day from overdose in U.S.

They say people will use heroin or opiates no matter what, so challenge is to help people

Writers: Make treatment easy, pass laws that let people call 911 without fear of arrest

They say we need to educate ourselves about treatments that might sound radical but work

Editor’s Note: Ethan Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.

CNN —  

People are mourning the tragic overdose death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found Sunday morning alone in his New York apartment with a needle in his arm and empty bags of heroin.

When a beloved celebrity such as Hoffman dies of an overdose, it’s front page news. But his death serves as a reminder that 105 people are dying in the United States every day from an overdose involving heroin or pharmaceutical opioids. With more than 30,000 deaths annually, accidental overdose has overtaken car accidents as our country’s leading cause of accidental death for people 25 to 64.

Ethan Nadelmann
Kevin Allen
Ethan Nadelmann
Tony Newman
Tony Newman

The hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the drug war did nothing to prevent a dramatic increase in overdose fatalities; indeed, those very policies likely increased the number of people who die from an overdose.

Some people are going to use heroin, or play around with pharmaceutical opiates, no matter what we say and no matter what the government does. The real challenge is to do what we can to help people stay alive.

Here are seven steps that can help:

1. Make treatment available to those who want and need it: It is tragic that so many people who need treatment can’t get it. It is outrageous that we taxpayers spend, on average, $30,000 a year to incarcerate someone with a drug problem, but we skimp on treatment programs that are less expensive and more effective in reducing illegal drug use and other crime. Too many people who want treatment are told there are no open slots and turned away.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s ‘everyman’ brilliance

2. Offer methadone and buprenorphine to those with opioid addiction: Methadone and buprenorphine have been the gold-standard treatment for opioid addiction for decades. These replacement therapies can allow people to live normal lives without the highs and lows of illegal heroin and other opioids.

We need to remove the obstacles to making these life-saving medications more readily available and end the stigma that discourages people from seeking out the most effective treatment.

3. Honest drug education: We urge young people to stay clear of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, but the reality is many will experiment with using substances no matter what. We must teach them the risks and consequences of drug use.