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posted: 2/5/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: The tragic lesson in Hoffman's death

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  • In a March 5, 2006, file photo, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman poses with the Oscar he won for Best Actor for in "Capote." AP Photo

    In a March 5, 2006, file photo, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman poses with the Oscar he won for Best Actor for in "Capote." AP Photo


Shocking. Devastating. Tragic. Unspeakable loss.

All words used to describe the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the 46-year-old Academy Award-winning actor, from an apparent heroin overdose.

His death is all those things, especially because we feel we know him through watching his acclaimed performances. But the lesson in Hoffman's death is that this shouldn't be as shocking as it is. In fact, we must learn to accept the sad truth -- that even when someone is sober for 23 years, as Hoffman reportedly was, an addict is never truly free of the temptation to start again, as he admitted he did last year.

"Addiction kills," comedian and actor Russell Brand said bluntly and correctly on Twitter, in reacting to the news and encouraging those who need help to get it.

It does kill and its prevalence in society is not just a Hollywood occurrence. Heroin is addicting and killing people of all walks of life, all ages, all races. It's killing our celebrities, our neighbors, our kids.

"When you put heroin in your body, it steals your soul. There's nothing left. Your morals, your dignity, your integrity, anything that you were raised with ... it's gone," says 29-year-old Nick Gore, a Bartlett resident. Gore told the Daily Herald's Robert Sanchez in a story last month that he has stayed sober for two years and is working with DuPage County to build awareness of the dangers and prevalence of heroin.

"I've lost a lot of friends, and I still have friends out there who are sick and suffering right now," Gore said.

The DuPage campaign and others like it are vital in the never-ending war against this drug. DuPage County had 45 heroin-related deaths in 2013 -- a record number. The oldest was 64. The youngest was 15. Twenty-one were between the ages of 20 and 29.

"The reality is that we have people in all age ranges that have had heroin addiction and have died of heroin overdoes," DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen said.

Added Wood Dale police Chief Greg Vesta: "If this was gang or gun violence in DuPage County and someone was being killed every eight days, I think the communities would be up in arms."

It's time to get riled up. It's time to understand how easy it is to acquire this drug, why people get hooked on it and where they can get the help they need to get clean. It's time to realize that heroin does not discriminate, that fame and fortune does not exempt anyone from the dangers it poses.

We should be sad when someone like Hoffman, or Cory Monteith of "Glee" before him, dies. We should also be vigilant in our efforts to make sure those close to us do not fall into the same lethal traps.

Get angry. Get informed. Get help.

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