The death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman on February 2, 2014, from an apparent overdose of heroin was a tragedy for his family and for everyone lucky enough to have enjoyed his brilliant acting.  Perhaps the one good thing to come out of this sad conclusion to Hoffman's open struggle with addiction is something Hoffman himself eerily predicted would occur: his death, if from drugs, would hopefully save 10 people from overdosing due to the publicity surrounding heroin addiction.

    His death has indeed cast the spotlight on the heroin and prescription drug epidemic in this country.  In fact, prescription opioids like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet are killing people at more than five times the rate that heroin is according to the recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  These drugs can initially be prescribed for pain from an injury, surgery, or a medical condition, but then addiction develops and users start to doctor shop for new prescriptions, buy the drugs on the street illegally, or use heroin to satisfy the craving.  Sometimes the prescription drugs are crushed and laced into the heroin.  A recent mix of fentanyl--an extremely potent painkiller--and heroin had deadly results in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

    Collin County Family Attorneys caution that the statistics on drug abuse can be misleading,  although deaths from prescription opioids still outnumber those from heroin, heroin use is up, and overdoses have increased.  One of the reasons that heroin is gaining in popularity is that it is much cheaper and easier to get than pharmaceutical drugs.  Another reason for the increase in overdoses is simply how powerful the addiction to heroin is:  "it is among the most debilitating of drug addictions historically known of," according to an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern Univ. in Florida who studies addiction. 

    Hoffman's death cast a spotlight on this issue as well.  Heroin is so addictive and the addiction is so incredibly hard to overcome, that even after two decades of sobriety Hoffman relapsed.  Forty to sixty percent of addicts eventually relapse, and users of opioid drugs like heroin have a much higher relapse rate than other addicts--as as high as eighty percent.  Social stressors that can trigger a relapse include emotional and family stress, or falling in with people and a culture of using again.  A big problem with addicts is the use if legitimately prescribed prescribed medications, particularly any type of painkiller.  The painkiller "reminds" the brain of the high, and the craving for more kicks right back in. Collin County Family Attorneys recommend that family members question a loved one about their prescription drug use even if doing so risks their anger.  As discussed above, misuse of prescription drugs can lead to addiction to street pharmaceuticals and heroin. 

    When looking for warning signs of a relapse, various behavioral changes specific to the addict often occur.  These warning signs are called a "drug relapse signature."  Although many times the warning signs of a relapse are changes particular to the addict's normal behavior and routine--a lifestyle established in recovery--there are nonetheless some common warning signs. Feeling suicidal is one of the most common signs of a drug relapse.  When an addict self-reports feeling in that much anguish and psychic pain, he or she will self-medicate with the drug most readily available and most likely to bring relief: heroin.