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Dr. Howard Wetsman: Addiction Claims Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Life

New Orleans, LA – February 7, 2014

On February 2nd 2014, Oscar winning character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, died in his apartment of an apparent heroin overdose. In May it was noted in the Huffington Post that he had entered “detox” for “substance abuse,” having progressed to heroin only one year after starting the use of prescription pills, this after a reported 23 years sober. In July, two months after “detox,” the Daily Mail showed pictures of Hoffman walking his bike down the street smoking a cigarette, reporting that he had gained so much weight in the “last couple of months” that he obviously no longer fit into his clothes. Now he’s dead.
I’m not telling you this because he’s famous. I’m not telling you this because he’s unique. We meet Philip Seymour Hoffmans every day. I’m telling you this because words matter, definitions matter. If we don’t get them right people can die.
I know the rest of the world sees substance abuse and addiction as the same thing; we can’t, because it kills people. I know many people focus on drugs and alcohol and not the brain illness; we can’t, because it kills people. I know most want to see treatment as something that can end after 10 days or 28 days or 90 days; we can’t, because it kills people.
The disease of addiction isn’t substance abuse; it’s a chronic progressive brain illness that is still there even after someone stops using. The illness doesn’t actually care what “drug” we use – heroin, cocaine, gambling, overeating – all the brain sees is the dopamine, and the dopamine is the same chemical no matter what “drug” we use. Withdrawal from a drug, which the world calls “detox” isn’t treatment for addiction; the chronic illness of addiction needs chronic lifelong attention just like diabetes and every other chronic illness.
I envision that one day we can democratize addiction treatment. That doesn’t only mean that we want treatment available to all those people who can’t afford it now. It also means we want treatment to be available to people who can afford it but don’t know any better. Why don’t they know any better? Because we haven’t done a good job at telling them.  
My heart goes out to those who loved Mr. Hoffman, and those that love all the other thousands of people dead from this disease. But my heart, and your heart, isn’t enough. We need our brains and our hands as well to get something done to change things. We can use our brains to learn the right words to use when we talk to people with addiction, and we can use our hands to lead them to the right treatment. Let’s all keep in mind that we’re working for a day when no one need die of this disease.
Onwards and upwards,

(Dr. Howard Wetsman, Chief Medical Officer, Townsend)

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