The private battles that defy logic
Brendan Cowell tells 2UE's John Stanley and Garry Linnell of the inner turmoil that his late friend Philip Seymour Hoffman wrestled with as a public figure.PT1M48S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-31vrq 620 349 February 3, 2014
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Heroin users do not simply "grow out" of their drug addiction, experts say, with more people like US actor Philip Seymour Hoffman using the drug in their 40s and 50s - and dying from overdose.
Hoffman was found dead on Sunday afternoon US time (3.30am Monday AEST), after a possible heroin overdose.
Tragedy: Police outside Philip Seymour Hoffman's apartment on Sunday. Photo: Reuters
The 46-year-old star of stage and screen had apparently battled with mental health and addiction issues since his university years. He checked himself into rehab last year after a relapse in his heroin addiction - 23 years after he kicked the habit.
Shane Darke, a professor at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW, said the medical community was seeing more deaths from heroin among people in their 40s, 50s and even 60s who had cycled in and out of treatment.
"We used to think that people would 'mature-out' in their 30s or late 20s, but what we have found now is that … just simply isn't the case,” he said. "It is a very sticky drug. It's very addictive; the only drug that is more addictive is nicotine.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman dead at 46
Philip Seymour Hoffman at the Venice Film Festival in 2012. Photo: Reuters
He said his research had found a dramatic increase in the proportion of Australian heroin users aged over 40. In 1996, only one in 10 users was aged over 40 but in 2010, the number had reached one in every three.
Professor Darke, the author of the book The Life of the Heroin User: Typical beginnings, trajectories and outcomes, said it wasn't just the physical addiction, but underlying serious mental health issues, that made recovery so difficult.
"Heroin is such a dangerous drug, it has such a high risk of death, to continue to use it you have to be pretty motivated,” he said. "With such a long history of serious mental disorders, poor employment and poor health, turning that around is not an easy task”.
"I'm asthmatic, and people aren't going to say 'Shane, you have just got to get your act together and stop being asthmatic', and if it were that easy we wouldn't see these patterns [with heroin]."
A US study found 30 years after people started using about half were dead, a quarter were abstinent, and a quarter were still using.
Hoffman told TMZ he had fallen off the wagon in 2012, after being off heroin for 23 years.
In 2011 Hoffman spoke about his anxieties.
"I think that's pretty much the human condition, you know, waking up and trying to live your day in a way that you can go to sleep and feel OK about yourself," he was quoted as saying.
He also spoke about his struggles with drink and drugs as a drama student at New York University and reportedly checked himself back into rehab in 2013 after having a relapse with heroin.
An official in the New York Police Department said his death appeared to be an overdose. Investigators found a syringe in his left forearm, at least two plastic envelopes with what appeared to be heroin nearby, and five empty plastic envelopes in a rubbish bin, he said.
"It's pretty apparent that it was an overdose," the official said. "The syringe was in his arm."
He said the actor had been alone. There were no pills and no sign that the actor had been drinking, he added.
Professor Darke said people who struggled with the drug should not lose hope. He said the best results came from long-term, sustained treatment programs.