February 4th, 2014

tats

No cut for you today

So Philip Seymour Hoffman died, apparently of a heroin overdose.

"Yes yes we know, Tats. That's yesterday's news." I hear you say.

I just have a few things to say about it, in response to the various opinions I've been reading over the last day or so.

For a start, drugs are not evil. Good luck even defining exactly what a drug is, never mind ascribing human characteristics or value judgements to them. Heroin is not inherently evil either. People who use heroin are not evil. I think poor dead Philip is a case in point, eh?

Using drugs does not inevitably lead to addiction or death. In fact, depending on who you read (and believe me, I've read as many studies on this as I could find), between 85 and 97 percent of people who use illegal drugs* never have any problems. So let's not be saying he died from drug use. He died from an overdose of a drug that he had used many times without dying. He died, if you insist, from drug MISuse - he got the dosage wrong, took too much. Just like, you know, if you use a car it's not harmful. If you misuse one you can kill yourself and others. It's an important distinction in the field of drug study. I suggest you learn and use it.

Did you know that heroin-assisted maintenance programs are improving outcomes for even the most entrenched cases of heroin addiction in Europe nowadays? The programs aren't getting people off the drugs directly. What they are doing is allowing people to extract themselves from the 'junkie' lifestyle by removing the harms associated with the black market - dirty needles, impure heroin, dealing with the criminal underworld, paying exorbitant prices - by providing measured doses of pure heroin free of charge, under supervision. What they have found is that when people are no longer having to deal with all that crap, they can improve their lives to the point where many heroin addicts are functioning within normal society - holding down jobs, paying taxes, raising families. And often, when people are experiencing these trappings of 'success', they then choose to slowly reduce their dose and come off heroin. Not all, but it's telling that heroin maintenance has been significantly more successful over a number of outcomes than just about every other intervention available.

Why am I telling you this? Because I'm tired of hearing about how it was the drugs that did this, that or the other to a person. In the case of heroin, while it is addictive, does have high overdose potential, and is objectively one of the most harmful drugs, it still does not have the power to make a person do anything. Even people who have previously been considered hopelessly addicted are showing that given the ability to take control of other aspects of their lives, they can use heroin regularly and will not inevitably die or be criminals.

So if heroin is not the culprit, then what happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman? It says in the article I linked to above, that he is quoted as saying:

"I don't know, I was young, I drank too much, you know, so I stopped. It's not really complicated. I had no interest in drinking in moderation. And I still don't. Just because all that time's passed doesn't mean maybe it was just a phase.

"That's you know, that's who I am."


This was in reference to his previous stint with addiction, that time to alcohol. Those lines were spoken in 2011, when as far as the world knows, he was free from addictions. He said about himself that moderation was not in his nature. He was a pusher of boundaries. It seems to me that addiction maintenance was not likely to be an option for him - it was either completely clean/sober, or 'drinking too much'. It's not hard to see how this would translate to heroin use turning into misuse, followed by overdose. "How high can I get?" Especially with increasing tolerance levels**.

So maybe he should have just stayed away from drugs then. Well, he did say that himself, after a fashion. But it's ignorant to make blanket statements about the nature of drugs because the occasional boundary-pusher goes too far and dies.

Dan Osman was a boundary-pusher too.



Known mostly for his freeclimbing exploits, he died, ironically, while using a rope. It broke and he fell to his death.

I doubt there are many eulogies that mention how evil ropes are, or even how evil climbing is. Nobody will say he died from climbing. They will say he died in a fall. They might talk about the unwise decision to jump that day after exposure of his gear to the elements, or about how he was always a risk-taker. But they won't talk about climbing as if it has agency, and nobody has called for it to be banned because of what happened to Osman.

He was looking for the edge. He found it. End of story.

Why do we make different assertions about someone's death when it involves an illegal drug? People who do that, please stop and think about what you are doing.


* I am assuming here that in this context when people say 'drugs' what they actually mean is 'illegal drugs'.
** It's a recorded phenomenon that people who've been clean for a while are at higher risk of overdose if they start using again, because their tolerance has decreased and they then hit at the dose they stopped at, which is too high for their current state. Either scenario sounds possible.