It’s a particularly bad time to be an injecting heroin user. That's not to say there's ever a good time. You could argue that things were worse in the '80s and early '90s before syringe exchanges became increasingly available, and HIV was leveling entire communities of drug users. Nonetheless, these are not good times to be cooking drugs off the street and shooting them in your veins. We didn’t need Philip Seymour Hoffman—by all accounts a dedicated father and universally recognized as one of the great actors of his generation—to die tragically with a needle in his arm and five empty bags of dope next to him to know this.
Now that Hoffman is gone the one purpose his passing can offer is to bring into sharp focus the fact that overdose deaths have long been on the rise in the U.S. (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from drug overdoses increased by 102 percent between 1999 and 2010), and to more vigorously continue the discussion about what to do about it.
As a recovering addict who still works with active users in communities where heroin is sold on the street, I can tell you that it’s particularly dangerous out there right now. Recently, an unpredictable and hard-to-track bad batch of Fentanyl-tainted heroin dipped and dodged its way through the mid-Atlantic: Camden, Philadelphia, moving west to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and now Pittsburgh. It also popped up to the south in Baltimore. Health practitioners in North Philly are getting bombarded with faxes from the Centers for Disease Control about the bad bags working their way around the streets, with instructions to warn their patients who might be using. Fentanyl-tainted bags go fast; ironically, when news of a batch laying users low spreads on the streets, heavy users seek the potent bags out by their brand stamp.