Addiction Issues
Tragic Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman Offers a Teachable Moment about Myths and Facts of Heroin Addiction
Feb 4, 2014 - 1:13:12 PM

( - LOS ANGELES, Feb. 4, 2014  -- It's tempting to think of the premature death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman as extraordinary - the culmination of bad luck, a profession tolerant of excesses and the pressures of a world-famous actor.  Not so, says A. R. Mohammad, M.D., a nationally recognized addiction expert, a board-certified psychiatrist and an associate professor at USC's prestigious Keck School of Medicine where he teaches the classes about addiction medicine.

According to Dr. Mohammad, death by heroin is all too common. Everyday about 100 people die from a drug overdose in the U.S.  But there's even a misunderstanding in this regard. Contrary to popular belief, 75% of all deaths from heroin or opiate overdoses are by people - and not necessarily addicts - who combine the drug with alcohol use, unknowingly making in the process a fatal concoction.

Rather than merely mourn the premature death of Hoffman from a heroin overdose, Dr. Mohammad offers that we use the resultant media attention to educate the public to myths surrounding the drug.  Here, then are five teachable moments about heroin use in this country

Myth #1:  Heroin is expensive, hard to get and a drug of the past.

Fact: Heroin addiction tripled since 1990. While exotic and expensive in the past, today it's a cheap alternative to prescription pain killers (opiates), is sold in a very strong form on the street in virtually every American city, and is highly addictive.

Myth #2:  Heroin addicts could kick their habits if they really wanted to.

Fact:  Heroin addiction is among the most difficult drug addictions to treat. That's why 80% of addicts who receive treatment will relapse within a year. Asking a bona fide drug addict to stop using heroin by using only willpower is akin to asking a diabetic to stop using insulin and instead attend a group therapy session.

Myth #3: There's no effective treatment for heroin. Once you're hooked, you're hooked forever.

Fact: Medical science has made great leaps forward in treating addiction.  Ten years ago advances in  diagnostic equipment , like CAT scans, showed us how the brain of the addict is physically different.  More recently, with sophisticated pharmaceuticals that target the craving, addicts can live normal lives as long as they maintain their treatment under trained medical professionals.

Myth #4: More heroin addicts don't try to come clean because detox is horribly painful.

Fact: Under proper medical supervision, detox from heroin is no longer painful. Both Methadone and Suboxone are pharmaceutical medications that have proven highly effective in detoxing from heroin without  life-threatening side effects associated with heroin detox in the past.  Methodone can be dispensed from specialized clinics while Suboxone can be prescribed from a doctor's office.

Myth #5: When you use medications to treat heroin addiction, you're just trading one drug for another.

Fact:  That's simply not true. Because patients on Suboxone don't keep taking more and more, they stay on a fixed dosage and over time, can even decrease the dosage. Their cravings stop, they return to work. and renew their relationships with friends and family. In short, they get their lives back. There is no cure for addiction, as is the case with all chronic diseases. But when their disease is managed with effective, evidence -based medications over a lifetime, drug addicts - like diabetics - can live a normal, productive life. If nothing less, Philip Seymour Hoffman showed us that a person with the chronic disease of drug addiction can achieve greatness.
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