Did Philip Seymour Hoffman Make A Fatal Misstep in Treating His Addiction?
A picture has emerged of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final days in the throes of a horrific heroin relapse, and a question has arisen as to whether his last-ditch efforts to shake his habit my have let him astray.
M&C has secured information from a reliable source that Hoffman checked himself into rehab sometime shortly before his death, but only stayed a week or so to get detoxed. When that didn’t work and he continued to relapse, he sought refugee at a local AA group that met near his Village apartment in Manhattan.
That self-styled treatment for a serious addiction may have caused Hoffman his life, says addiction expert A. R. Mohammad, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist who teaches addiction medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.”
“After 23 years of being sober, Hoffman was in a dangerous spot when he suddenly relapsed. We don’t exactly know the physiology of the phenomenon, but when there’s a relapse after that long of a period of being sober, it’s extremely difficult to shake the addiction again, and especially so with an opiate habit,” says Dr. Mohammad
The Oscar-winning actor began a drug binge six weeks before his death, injecting himself with heroin. He told friends that he feared he was destined to fatally o.d., according to TMZ. “If I don’t stop, I’m going to die,” Hoffman is reported have to said at one point.
His friends might have dismissed his self-prophecy as so much actor’s drama. After all, he was attending parties and doing press at Sundance Film Festival in support of two new films premiering there just a couple of weeks ago. What his friends likely didn’t know at the time is that Hoffman’s 4th floor Village apartment in Manhattan had been transformed into a virtual opium den, filled with dozens of bags of heroin, bottles of prescription pills and various drug paraphernalia, according to published police reports.
“At this point, Hoffman should have checked himself into a long-term rehab center staffed by trained addiction medicine specialists. Minimum, he should have stayed 30 days but if he needed to stay 60 or even 90 days, he should have made the commitment. I understand his career commitments may have pressured him to act as if everything was more or less normal, but he obviously was in the middle of a life or death situation, with the deciding factor being how seriously he took his relapse,” says Dr. Mohammad, who also serves as the medical director of Inspire Malibu addiction treatment center.
“After all, his movie commitments notwithstanding, what could have been more important than his life? He should have gone on a career hiatus for however long it took. What people fail to understand is that a drug addiction of this nature, coming off a prolonged recovery, can kill you,” he added.
Even Hoffman’s AA meeting visits might have been misguided. By all reports to date, Hoffman may have been drinking heavily but his primary substance abuse problem was a heroin addiction.
Oftentimes heroin or opiate addicts attend AA, instead of Narcotics Anonymous because it might be more convenient since there are so many more AA meetings than NA meetings. “But it can be hard for alcoholics to relate to opiate addicts,” says Dr. Mohammad.
Dr. Mohammad says that the use of alcohol and opiate differs in five distinct ways:
1) People drink alcohol and can’t smoke it or inject it like heroin, so the physical experience of using each is different.
2) The feeling of high and the withdrawal symptoms are different.
3) Chemically speaking, alcohol affects many receptors, while opiate only opiate receptors.
4) Alcohol is legal, heroin is illegal, so their pattern of use is different.
5) Physiology of the people who use heroin and alcohol is different.
“Most of my patients who are opiate addicts can’t relate to AA, although a few attend AA regularly for social reasons,” says Dr. Mohammad.
Rather than turning to a 12-step support group, Dr. Mohammad underscores that Hoffman immediately should have checked himself into a bona fide treatment center where he could have received medications to quell his drug cravings.
“Whether it’s AA or NA, none of these 12-step groups that offer emotional support should be acting as surrogate doctors. It’s one thing to offer comfort and another to dispense pseudo-medical advice, especially in a life and death situation,” he says. “AA, NA are helpful but shouldn’t be substituted for professional treatment.”