HEROIN users struggle to keep a job and stay out of prison, so how did Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman remain functional?
National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre professor Shane Darke says heroin users are typically broke and have criminal histories.
“He’s an unusual case in the sense that the majority of typical heroin users are long-term unemployed with lengthy prison histories and long histories of relapse.
“He’s atypical in sense he was a professional. People shouldn’t think that’s the norm – it’s not. He could also afford it which is very rare.
“If using to get a high, it’s a depressant and many people actually would not be able to function, like drive a car or do all of those sorts of things.
“It basically sedates you. It certainly affects your day to day life.”
Hoffman is best known for his recent role as Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and also starred in Moneyball, Doubt, Scent of a Woman and The Big Lebowski.
Professor Darke, author of The Life of the Heroin User: Typical Beginnings, Trajectories and Outcomes says mental health issues often drive heroin use.
“Heroin is the best drug you can imagine for blotting out pain and stress. It’s a blot out drug, not a party drug,” he said.
“Users demonstrate high rates of sexual abuse. Three quarters of female users suffered childhood sexual abuse. There’s a typical pattern of abuse in their backgrounds or parental alcoholism.
“Users are assaulted frequently. Work on this shows about half of them have been assaulted in the last year.”
Heroin addiction often begins with booze, Prof Darke says.
“All heroin users get drunk at age 12 or 13,” he said.
“Heroin tends to come later in the teen years as they move into broader substance abuse.”
Users also usually suffer serious health problems by the time they reach their 40s.
“Typically users have a very bad diet – it comes to a matter of priorities,” he said.
“Health problems, like liver and heart disease, occur at rates similar to disease among elderly.
“Users also suffer very high rates depression and anxiety. Overdoses, prison, malnourishment and disease are all common. It’s already hard lifestyle.”
Heroin costs about $ 300 per gram in Australia. Experts say people with serious problems typically use about a gram of heroin a day.
Paul Dillon from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) says heroin users rarely hold down jobs.
“Functional heroin users would be people who hold down jobs while using but it’s a slippery slope,” he said.
“This is a drug where the difference between having the effects and finding yourself in an emergency room is very slim.
“If you’re professional person using your day to day employment suffers.”
Heroin is considered an ‘end of the line’ drug.
“It’s a drug that most people wouldn’t consider using,” he said.
“Users usually try everything else first. That’s because it has an addictive quality and high potential for overdose.
“This is why most people who get into difficulty with heroin resort to crime to pay for drugs.”
Mr Dillon says the Oscar-winning star, who was reportedly spending $ US10,000 ($ 11,400) a month on heroin, may not have been trying to get high when he died but simply trying to ease the pain of withdrawals.
“When you’re a dependent heroin user you’re not always using for the high but to ease the withdrawals,” he said.
“You don’t die but withdrawals are very painful and as a result it can be very difficult to give up heroin.
“Users can go into treatment many times and then they have an incident and they go back to it. Then they get into trouble and overdose because they have no tolerance anymore.”
The Capote actor, 46, not only had a massively expensive heroin habit but was also said to be using the pain-relieving drug, OxyContin.
Heroin is a ‘sticky drug’, which is almost impossible to take recreationally, without becoming addicted, Prof Darke says.
“For people to say he had successfully managed his addiction is ridiculous. He’s dead. How successful was that?”