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Overcoming the Obstacle of Addiction Stigma

On February 2nd, Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York City apartment as a result of a heroin overdose. After 23 years of sobriety, and ultimately lost his life-long battle against addiction.

As tempting as it may be for the layman to simply chalk Hoffman’s death up to an outcome of his poor judgment, those of us in the addictions treatment field understand that it is, unfortunately, an all-too-common outcome in the epidemic disease of addiction.

Hoffman’s death is a tragedy on so very many levels.  As fans of Hoffman, we shake our collective heads and wonder how a tragedy such as this could happen.  And while his friends, family and fans may feel some vindication or even peace of mind as a result the arrest of four suspects implicated in supplying Hoffman with the lethal heroin, any sense of closure can only be fleeting. 

These arrests will not bring Hoffman – or any of the other estimated 40,000 Americans who will die this year from drug overdoses – back to us.  Law enforcement alone does not even scrape the surface of this public health epidemic. If the failed War on Drugs has taught us anything, it is that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem.

All of the available research proves that the only way to make positive inroads against the epidemic of drug addiction is by making effective evidence-based treatment available to more addicts.

For any type of addiction, the road to recovery can be a long and often frustrating process. The road can be made even more difficult when society places unnecessary or anachronistic obstacles in the way of those who seek treatment. If we reduce the stigma of drug addiction and work to eliminate barriers to treatment, while at the same time providing greater opportunities for addicts to enter effective, proven treatment and recovery facilities, more individuals will come forward for treatment. 

In the long run, this is the only avenue that can prevent more tragedies like Hoffman’s.

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