In light of the deaths of Hollywood greats, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman and “Glee” star Cory Monteith, as a result of drug overdoses, the media is bringing attention to the American Drug Overdose Epidemic. Various media outlets such as the Washington Post, USA Today, and The New York Times are raising awareness to this “epidemic.” On Feb 11, the Times US even wrote an article entitled “Obama Administration Cites Heroin Concerns After Hoffman Death.” Is it really an “epidemic” or is the media finally bringing attention to an issue that has been plaguing America for years?
Overdosing on drugs has been an issue for many decades, becoming a more prominent issue back in the 1950s. As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, “Drug overdose death rates have been rising steadily since 1992 with a 102% increase from 1999 to 2010 alone.” They go on to further report that every day “people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in Emergency Departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs. Nearly nine out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs.”
While these numbers are alarming, it is obvious that this is not a new problem. More importantly, there is no case study available or current statistical proof to call it an “epidemic”. Rather, it is something that the media is finally bringing attention to through using such deaths as Monteith’s and Hoffman’s with the hope of stopping its increase.
It is no secret that both Monteith and Hoffman had trouble with drugs. Hoffman candidly spoke about his personal struggle with drugs coming of out of New York University (NYU), his struggle with New York’s “fast life,” and the realization that he needed to stop his drug use in a “60 Minutes” interview in 2006. He stated, “It was all that [drugs and alcohol], yeah, it was anything I could get my hands on… I liked it all.” Hoffman furthered stated that, “I went [to rehab], I got sober when I was 22 years old. You get panicked… and I got panicked for my life. It really was just that.”
Monteith was also open about his issues with drugs. He would state in a 2012 appearance on “Inside the Actors Studio” that his problems with drugs and alcohol began when he “was about 12.”
While both actors’ deaths were results of drug overdoses and believed to be accidental, they bring light to the unintentional and intentional deaths in the United States as a result of drug overdose. A 2010 study by the CDC reported that “30,006 (78%) of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States were unintentional, 5,298 (14%) of suicidal intent, and 2,963 (8%) were of undetermined intent.”
While such Hollywood great’s deaths can be used as an example to the public to address a growing trend, to go as far to say that it is an “epidemic” would be making a fallacious claim. The media needs to reframe its language when discussing drug overdoses.