I’m pondering the untimely passing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman to an apparent drug overdose and the upswing in heroin use in the Olympia area. Reactions to Hoffman’s death tend to focus on the tragedy of losing someone so talented. People are sympathetic, sad, focusing on his creative gifts and the loss represented by his death.
That’s valid; I don’t fault people for those feelings. I just want to draw attention to the gap between those reactions and the public discourse around local heroin addicts, needle-exchange programs, etc. in our community.
When a famous person is lost to addiction, we’re full of sympathy. But when it comes to nonfamous victims, the reaction is more often condemnation, victim-blaming and assumptions about the kind of people who fall prey to addiction.
Hoffman’s death is a reminder that addiction happens to people of all colors, religions and socioeconomic classes. Addiction happens regardless of a person’s professional success or the happiness and success of their relationships and family life. Addiction happens to people from a diverse range of backgrounds and families of origin.
Is the loss of an addict who is not famous any less tragic? What about the contributions they may have made in the future? Why is it easier to blame the victim when the victim is an unknown, a felon, a person of color, a homeless person, a person different from us, a person we haven’t idolized and admired?
I think these are questions worth asking ourselves.