The Demonizing of Drug Users Has to Stop

Philip Seymour Hoffman Death Shines Light on Darkness of Addiction


In Seattle, we have a radio show hosted by former child star Danny Bonaduce that I often listen to on my way to work. He has a segment called “Danny Bonaduce Life Coach” where he helps callers with their various problems: divorce, unemployment and most often, addiction.

On this morning’s show a man called in, distressed about getting help for his substance abuse problem in light of financial difficulties. He thought that because he had a disease, his insurance would cover some or all of his treatment for it. But of course, as Danny told him, that wasn’t the case.

Though The Mayo Clinic (and every other notable medical group) validates alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease, our country treats these individuals as lesser members of society.

Though I’m not an addict, I’ve loved and hated addicts all my life. It took me over 30 years to truly understand that they couldn’t control what their bodies were telling them to do, but I got there.

Though their actions may seem selfish, on a purely biological level they are not.

Imagine yourself walking through the dry desert, the hot sun beaming down upon you, dehydrated and starved for even just a drop of water.

At that moment in time, you’d probably trade your clothing, your electronics—anything for a precious drink to quench your unimaginable thirst.

That’s how addicts feel every minute of every day: they’re thirsty for their poison because their bodies are telling them they need that poison to survive.

I was devastated to hear of the recent passing of genius actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. So young, so talented, so unfair.

Even more devastating has been the commentary emerging in the days following his death. Instead of letting his family, friends and fans grieve in peace, our community of haters on the Internet has to shame him, prove they amongst the living are better than he could have been because they’re not laying on a floor with a heroin needle in their arm. At least not yet.

Entertainment Weekly put him on the cover of their next issue, and I applaud them for doing so. What infuriated me were the comments that bubbled up when they posted said cover online on Facebook. Folks who were angry that they were memorializing someone who died of an overdose. They called the deceased “stupid” and worse.

I can’t imagine that those stone throwers have never had to deal with addiction, but boy they’re lucky they dodged that bullet if they haven’t.

From those of us who have experienced it: It’s a horrible existence. For those who deny they have a problem, it’s a constant uphill battle just to keep them alive; for those who admit they have a problem, it’s a struggle to get them help (even if they have the means) because they fear the repercussions to their reputation. They fear that jackasses like the haters on the EW Facebook page will prevent them from getting work, or being accepted at church or attending social functions with loved ones. They fear they’ll lose their dignity, so often times they continue abusing to mask the pain of that fear.

So, how do we solve this?

First, we could take a cue from Portugal, who decriminalized drugs, which decreased drug use in their country dramatically.

Second, we could promote effective treatment centers like the world-renowned Hazleden as places to go for wellness much like a yoga spa rather than make them the punchline of jokes.

Third, we could invite compassion back into the conversation, so when the unthinkable does happen, we help those affected heal instead of demonizing their dearly departed.

Can you imagine taking to a public Facebook page to call a recently passed cancer-victim “stupid?” Neither can I, but cancer and addiction are one and the same: their victims lost a genetic game.

Just like cancer, environmental factors are also to blame (i.e., a smoker that develops lung cancer), but some of us are far more likely to develop an addiction than others.

Have a little heart for those who are losing the fight.