Reports of American celebrities “entering rehab” no longer shock us. Just last year, according to Peggy Drexler of The Huffington Post, the following stars checked in for help with their addictions: Josh Brolin, Zac Efron, Lindsay Lohan, Elizabeth Vargas, Adam Shankman, and Amanda Bynes.
The death of acclaimed character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this month, however, is a different matter. On February 2, the Oscar-winning actor was found dead on the floor of his $10,000-a-month New York apartment, a needle full of heroin in his left arm. The apartment had more than 70 bags of the narcotic, plus five prescription drugs. Hoffman had made six ATM withdrawals of $200 the day before.
The actor, looking at least a decade older than his 46 years, had checked out of rehab in June, though he still attended AA meetings sporadically. Hoffman leaves behind his girlfriend and their three children.
“It’s just a horrible situation,” an anonymous source told the Daily News. “Why is someone with so much to lose willing to take this chance? The line between genius and madness is very thin.”
It’s a chance that more and more Americans, unfortunately, are all too willing to take. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of heroin users nearly doubled, from 373,000 in 2007, to 669,000 in 2012. The number of those who abused or grew dependent upon heroin has more than doubled, from 214,000 in 2002, to 467,000 in 2012.
Last November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “deaths from drug overdose have increased sharply in the past decade,” claiming that 40,393 people died in this way in 2010. Heroin is also making its deadly presence known where I live, in DuPage County, a mostly wealthy suburb of Chicago.
Here, the number of heroin deaths averaged 26 per year between 2007 and 2011. In 2012, the grim number jumped to 42. Eighty-seven percent of the victims since 2007 have been white males.
It’s not hard to see why heroin use is spreading. “Heroin is a drug that is cheap and available just about everywhere,” reporter Dan Ponce of WGN-TV says. “A $10 bag can keep someone high for a day or two. And addicts no longer have to drive down I-290, the so called ‘Heroin Highway,’ to get to the west side of Chicago to buy it. Drug dealers will deliver heroin right to your front door.”
Minnesota is also dealing with this scourge. “When parents and families hear celebrities overdosing on heroin, the story seems so far away from home, and people need to realize the story is actually in our homes and in our neighborhoods,” says Scott Hesseltine, operations director at Hazelden Treatment Center. “There are thousands of Minnesotans right now abusing prescription medications and heroin, and they desperately need to get help.”
Indeed they do, and perhaps churches can play a role. Besides helping their own members and children caught in the heroin trap (and it would be naïve to assume that heroin cannot reach into our churches), perhaps congregations of God’s people can establish zones of safety to reach out to those suffering from addiction and other consequences of the drug. The first step is to become aware of the problem in the community. The second might be to connect with organizations and ministries that are already grappling with it.
But beyond providing vital practical help—including a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and perhaps a referral to professional assistance—what else could God’s people do? Let me suggest that we have a treasure that, properly understood and lived, makes all the temptations of drug abuse fade into insignificance.
Christian faith, of course, is no guarantee against the ruination of narcotics such as heroin. Hoffman was reportedly quite impressed with Jesus Christ, though I do not know if the actor had ever committed his life to the Savior.
However, I believe that people turn to drugs for satisfaction of unmet longings for joy, out of their desire to please self, which the world tells them is their main—perhaps their only—task in life. While illicit drug use promises short-term happiness, eventually it delivers anything but. As James 1:15 warns, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Such is certainly true in the tragic case of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The universal human thirst for joy is not wrong, as long as it is slaked in the right stream. Only Christians, however, know where to find it. The key isn’t rehab, but repentance. Joy isn’t found in a powder, but in a Person.
“I came that they may have life,” Jesus said, “and have it abundantly.”
Perhaps if more of us Christians, myself included, were about the happy business of sharing that abundant life, we might see fewer sad men like Hoffman die alone in their apartments, with needles in their arms.
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