Widely Admired Actor Dies from Apparent Heroin Overdose

The world's tallest teepee on a snow-free morning. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
The world's tallest teepee on a snow-free morning. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

By the time this column is published, we may know the exact cause of death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, perhaps the most widely admired American actor of his generation. He was 46. How sad. He left behind three young children, their mother and millions of admiring grieving moviegoers.

The death is believed to be from an apparent drug overdose. Investigators found a syringe in his arm and, nearby, an envelope containing what appeared to be heroin. Heroin is highly addictive painkiller.

Charles Romley Alder Wright (1844 – 1894) was an English chemistry and physics researcher at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. He was the first person to synthesize heroin, in 1874. Heroin itself is an active drug, but it is also converted into morphine in the body.

Opium is obtained from the opium poppy. Opium contains approximately 12 per cent morphine, which is frequently processed chemically to produce heroin for the illegal drug trade and for legal medicinal use.

Heroin, when used in a medical environment, is referred to as diamorphine. It is highly addictive drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin is both the most abused and the most rapidly acting of the opiates.

It is estimated Afghanistan, in 2004, produced roughly 87 per cent of the world supply in illicit raw opium. However, the production rate in Mexico has risen six-fold from 2007 to 2011, placing Mexico as the second largest opium producer in the world. Reports indicate Mexican cartels are also known to produce another type of illicit heroin, commonly called black tar.

A UN report last year put the problems in stark perspective. “The number of people who die of heroin overdoses in NATO countries per year (above 10,000) is five times higher than the total number of NATO troops killed in Afghanistan in the past eight years,” it said. “We need to go back to the dramatic opium addiction in China a century ago to find comparable statistics.”

Canadian police seized 92 kilograms of heroin in 2008, up from 67 kilograms in 2001 – a 38 per cent increase, according to Health Canada, which tests seized drugs for police forces. They also seized 67 per cent more raw opium. In Alberta, the police have seized 42 times more heroin and opium each year on average between 2002 and 2008 than in the 1995-2001 period.

Is there a solution to the problem?

It is almost impossible to get hold of the drug dealers at the “factory” level. The problem is almost worldwide. It is an epidemic, which cannot be controlled by vaccination. The best thing we can do is educating the public, especially our children, of the dangers of using drugs and the consequences of addiction. Prevention is better than cure. Pursuing healthy lifestyle includes avoiding drugs, no smoking, don’t drink and drive, exercise regularly, meditate and laugh a lot. A good family environment and good friends are the pillars of good health.

That’s it for this week. Talk to you again soon. Take care.

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