News / USA

Hoffman Death Comes Amid Rise in Heroin Abuse, Trafficking

FILE - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the U.S. Department of Justice released photo shows heroin seized from "Seaboard Pride" at Port of Miami, Florida.
FILE - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the U.S. Department of Justice released photo shows heroin seized from "Seaboard Pride" at Port of Miami, Florida.
Reuters
The apparent heroin overdose death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman comes amid a sharp rise in trafficking of the illegal narcotic across the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years and growing abuse of the drug nationwide, federal officials said on Monday.
 
The increasing levels of U.S. heroin use, which has reached epidemic proportions during the past five years, stems from a corresponding spike in abuse of prescription opiate-based painkillers, such as oxycodone, Drug Enforcement Administration officials said.
 
Many individuals who start out abusing oxycodone turn eventually to heroin as they build up a tolerance to the pain pills and find that they can buy heroin far more cheaply than prescription medications on the black market, the officials said.
 
"Oxy is much more expensive to get than heroin," said Sarah Pullen, a special DEA agent in Los Angeles. "Prescription drug abuse really took hold about 10 years ago, and about five years ago, we really started to see heroin abuse pick up."
 
The amount of heroin seized annually along America's Southwestern border has increased nearly four-fold between 2008 and 2012, from 558.8 kg (1,232 lb) to 2,091 kg (4,610 lb) per year, a sign that smuggling operations are on the rise, the DEA said.
 
Ninety-five percent of the heroin smuggled into the United States originates in South America, much of it in Mexico, the agency said.
 
Meanwhile, fatal heroin overdoses have increased 45 percent from 2006 to 2010, with 3,038 such deaths reported that year, and numbers are believed to still be on the rise, the agency said.
 
Possible reasons cited for the rise in heroin deaths include a general increase in abuse of the drug, an increase in the availability of high-purity heroin at the street level, and a growing number of people using the narcotic at a younger age.
 
Fentanyl-laced heroin

Authorities in the Northeast said they have seen a rash of fatal overdoses in recent months attributed to a deadly brand of heroin laced with fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
 
Law enforcement sources told Reuters investigators were trying to determine whether the heroin that is suspected of killing Hoffman, 46, might have been laced with fentanyl.
 
A memorial for movie actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is displayed in front of his apartment building in New York, Feb. 3, 2014.A memorial for movie actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is displayed in front of his apartment building in New York, Feb. 3, 2014.
x
A memorial for movie actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is displayed in front of his apartment building in New York, Feb. 3, 2014.
A memorial for movie actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is displayed in front of his apartment building in New York, Feb. 3, 2014.
The Oscar-winning actor, who had a history of substance abuse, was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment on Sunday, with a syringe stuck in his arm. New York City police sources familiar with the case said 50 small bags of what appeared to be heroin were found in his home.
 
An autopsy of the actor's body was performed on Monday, but it was not known when results would be released.
 
Dr. Marvin Seppala, the chief medical officer at the Hazelden drug addiction treatment centers, said heroin and other opioids lend themselves to overdose and death because they directly act on the parts of the brain that control breathing.
 
Erin Mulvey, a DEA special agent in New York City, said additives such fentanyl are added to heroin at local distribution centers where pure heroin smuggled into the United States is processed and packaged for street sales.
 
She said 17 percent of all heroin seized by authorities in recent years has been confiscated in New York, a sign that the city is a major U.S. distribution hub for the drug.
 
The DEA had no nationwide data quantifying the incidence of overall heroin use independent of overdose deaths.
 
But the Los Angeles Times cited figures from a neuropharmacology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who said the percentage of addicts seeking treatment for heroin abuse at 150 drug treatment centers across the country has increased from about 10 percent in 2011-2012 to between 20 and 25 percent over the past year.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid