published Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Cook: Hoffman again ... and again

It's been 10 days since Philip Seymour Hoffman, possibly our era's finest actor, was found dead and alone in his apartment, a needle in his arm.

Before Hoffman, there was Cory Monteith. And Heath Ledger. Kurt Cobain. River Phoenix. Elvis.

They are our dead celebrities, the famous ones who die from addiction. We love them with a strange love, and mourn them with a strange grief.

We leave flowers outside the buildings where they died. We dim the lights on Broadway. We visit their graves. We easily forgive their drug use and excesses; after all, it's Hollywood. After all, they entertained us so.

But in the 10 days since Hoffman died, 1,000 other Americans have also died from drug overdoses.

"Statistically speaking, more than 100 Americans whose names we'll never know died of drug overdose on the same day that Mr. Hoffman did," Stanford psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys told The Washington Post.

Their deaths are the anonymous ones. For every one Hoffman, there are 99 other everyday addicts, taking their last breath in the lonely bathroom.

They are our neighbors and colleagues, the folks we see on the sidewalk or in line at the bank. Addiction is not only for the gutters; it is suburban. It is 32 black men we call the worst of the worst. It is America.

"He didn't die because he was partying too hard or because he was depressed," Aaron Sorkin wrote in Time. "He died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a y in it."

Let's use the spotlight placed on Hoffman's death to ask ourselves, with more gravity than ever, the Big Question:

Would legalization help?

"This is an important moment in history," Russell Brand wrote in The Guardian. "We know that prohibition does not work."

Brand, a little sloppily, claims that Hoffman did not have to die. Yet because he was hooked on illegal substances, a part of his life became illegal as well.

"If drugs are illegal," Brand wrote, "people who use drugs are criminals."

Upon this basic premise we have built our entire War on Drugs. It's cost upwards of $1 trillion, produced one of the largest prison populations in the world, and felonized what seems like a whole generation of young black men.

It is not working.

When we're honest, we realize that each one of us is hooked on something and many things; it's just the luck of the draw if those things are legal.

Yes, yes, we each make our own choices, yet we must also learn to sympathize. That there but for the grace of God, we each could be Hoffman in the bathroom. Fighting drug addiction becomes less a matter of sheer will, like wrestling a grizzly, but more a matter of surrender, like calling for the lifeguard.

I can't help but wonder if legalization would save countless lives, defund the endless War on Drugs, and legitimize the suffering of addicts.

Yet as soon as those words come out, part of me hates the idea. I don't long for a society where cocaine is purchased legally; that's no city on a hill, no beacon to the world.

Colorado just legalized marijuana (does that mean everyone locked up for marijuana possession suddenly goes free?), and giggly tourists are coming from near and far to get stoned. It's like Colorado is the teenager whose parents just went out of town for the weekend. (Of course, this same description would apply to most bars on Saturday night).

Aren't we supposed to be elevating one another? Seeking and promoting the best, not the buzz? Isn't a society supposed to deem some things out of bounds?

This issue won't be resolved anytime soon. And as soon as I say yes to legalize, I think of all the reasons not to. And vice versa.

But I do believe this: we seek substances to alter the way we experience life. I reach for the wine because it eases the tiny suffering of each day. The anxiety, the impatience, the fear.

Yet then comes the switcheroo: the things we grab then grab us. Mightily. One drink becomes two, one hit turns to five.

To really fight addiction means we learn ways to sit with our pain, anxiety and all the things that make us itch. We stop running from the things that lead us toward addiction.

Meditation can do this. Were we to launch a nationwide program (The War on the Monkey Mind!) that teaches meditation to every student in every grade in every school, I have no doubt that drug use would significantly decrease within 10 years. That is not the only solution, but I cannot see how anything is solved without it.

Perhaps Hoffman's curtain call is to ask us -- as 100 people die tomorrow -- to envision again what a merciful and healthy drug policy looks like.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Ki said...

it is suburban. It is 32 black men we call the worst of the worst. It is America.

And it's rich white kids from Plano Texas dropping dead like flies from shooting up or digesting too pure a form of heroin known as black tar. So tell me again why so many black faces are sitting inside America's prisons all across the nation on non-violent drug charges when white neighbors' children living in their parent's basement routinely die from drug overdoses after years and years of addiction and abuse their parents often knew about and with their parents' consent? If a child died in a poor working class home from a dru overdose, you can bet that parents' home would be bomb rushed and they'd likely lose everything they have, the home included.

Why is it that if I lose my driving privilege due to a DWI or DUI (even if I kill someone while driving DUI/DWI) I can still apply for and obtain a restricted driver's license but a citizen who lose his/her job and fall behind on court fines can lose their right to drive without recourse to regain their license until their fines are either paid up or paid off? Is it because DUI/DWI offenders are often middle-classed and up white and privileged? Members of law enforcement even? While people who often fall behind in on minor court fines are basically the poorest of poor and minority?

February 12, 2014 at 3:44 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

No matter what color you are, you go to jail for BEHAVIOR. Take note,Ki. The 32 black persons, the worst of the worst, will go to jail for criminal behavior. Any other reason is an excuse created in your imagination. I can explain this to you, but I can't make you understand it.

February 12, 2014 at 3:55 p.m.
Ki said...

sagoy said: No matter what color you are, you go to jail for BEHAVIOR

Problem with that sago, is it's not true. Everyone doesn't go to jail for bad behavior. The recent Chattanooga cop with a history of bad behavior finally arrested in Rutherford County would be a prime example. And that arrest only took place in another county and city. He likely would not have been arrested if it had happened locally. At leas the last time he got caught drunk on the side of the road I don't recall his being arrested, and he certainly didn't lose his job.

Committing a crime in America these days only lead to an arrest if you don't have the right connections or live in a certain zip code or belong to a certain profession.

February 12, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Ki, perhaps you should read up on how the system works. Then reread what I can't make you understand. Everybody does not go to jail for criminal behavior, for example, Trevon Martin and that wannabe down in Florida. But their behavior certainly had negative consequences, didn't it?

February 12, 2014 at 4:16 p.m.
Ki said...

re: . Everybody does not go to jail for criminal behavior

1.) Isn't that what I said?

3.) Trevon Martin? Bad behavior is not the same as illegal or criminal behavior.

2.) That wannabe in Florida. You mean the one whose daddeee is a retired federal magistrate?

February 12, 2014 at 4:39 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Ki, everyone who should go to jail for negative behavior does not end up there, but if they do, it is for negative behavior, not a zip-code. Trevon ended up in a grave for his criminal behavior of breaking Zimmerman's head open while assaulting him . The wannabe I was thinking of was the loud, foul-mouthed punk who wanted to be a tough guy, but fooled with the wrong man, who sent him to his grave, and is now on trial for his behavior. Sorry to say, I don't know any of their zip codes

February 12, 2014 at 7:26 p.m.
Ki said...

If you honestly believe TreYvon ended up in a grave for allege "criminal behavior" then you you'd have to also believe that every victim who attempted to fight off a potential stalker, kidnapper, rapist, serial killer, serial rapist, murderer and was instead killed in the process of defending themselves also deserved to die. We'd also have to conclude **U_R**__ One sick cookie.

Hope you or no one you know or love ever encounter a Gary Michael Hilton while out hiking or going about your daily activities.

February 12, 2014 at 8:13 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

It has nothing to do with what I believe. There was a trial, evidence was presented, a jury made the decision, you don't get to make the choice, thank goodness. Now, go about your backstabbing, Monday morning quarterbacking. You are just spitting in the wind.

February 13, 2014 at 6:13 a.m.
Ki said...

Apparently it has a lot to do with what you believe. Since you're the one who threw an irrelevant element into the subject. Jurors make bad and wrong decisions all the time. They've convicted the innocent while letting the guilty go free. Cacey Anthony anyone? There must be something in Florida's drinking water anyway so not many, except you, take them seriously anymore.

Now, back on topic and we'll just let sago keep pis/sing in the wind with his lunatic ragings:

Heroin overdoses didn't recently explode on the scene. There hasn't been a sudden rise in heroin use. The heroin and its addicts have been around for decades, but it was just cheaper and much easier to go after poor inner-city crack users than heroin and meth addicts. They can't tie up the courts fighting the charge. The failure of the war on drugs has much to do with L.E. attempts to spend as little as possible actually fighting the war. Spend as little as possible of those federall dollars and use the bulk of it on promotions, buying up army tanks, helicopters, drones, raises and stabalizing pensions for retirement.

As far back as the 1990s a Texas emergency room doctor attempted to raise the red flag on heroin use and suburbia America after treating several overdoess a week. However, he was silenced by both law enforcement and hospital officials. After all, the overdoses he was treating came mostly from middle-class and up white suburbs. Whose friends often dropped them off at the emergency room door, after a night of shooting up, and drive off.

February 13, 2014 at 9:36 a.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Ki, that is twice that you made some reference to my mental health. I do not believe for one minute that you have any training and certainly no license to diagnose anything. Nor do you have any real knowledge of the criminal justice system, though you have probably run afoul of it. No war on drugs will ever be won as long as the demand is there for the supply. The supply will always be there as long as we have a large supply of lazy ass whiners, like you, who having no education or work ethic, continue to use drugs in an attempt to escape thier self imposed cycle of regret, envy and unhappiness.It is really very simple and obvious. A moron, like you, used the word "BRILLIANT" on a magazine cover to describe Hoffman. Here's the secret, you don't end up dead on the floor with a spike in your arm if you are brilliant.

February 13, 2014 at 11:26 a.m.
Ki said...

Sensitive, aren't we sago? Apparently you know little to nothing about the criminal justice system yourself. There's no need for diagnosis. You're your own proof to your mental state.

  1. Are you saying brilliant people don't use drugs and can't be drug addicts?

Well, you must never heard of Sigmund Freud. One of the most quoted in the field of psychiatry who was also a drug addict. Steven Job, Apple founder, Bill Gates, Microsoft founder all used drugs in college. Albert Einstein. Some of the most brilliant minds renown throghout history were drug users. They just got lucky and didn't O.D. or if they did, they didn't die from it. You do know don't you, that not every overdose results in a death?

February 13, 2014 at 1:16 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Mr. Cook, you bring up some excellent points but your apparent ambiguity over the debate of whether to legalize drugs - or at least certain drugs - is inexcusable for this late in the game. Our country is hopelessly lost in indecisiveness and gridlock, debating issues that long ago should have been settled by science and common sense. We are wasting time in arguments with fools who try to sound rational as they make their specious arguments in support of things like global warming as a liberal conspiracy, creationism, and the war on drugs.

We've been stuck in the quagmire of this drug war for over 50 years and there's never been the slightest evidence of its accomplishing anything other than creating a huge black market, increasing crime, and making obscenely rich those vultures whose very source of income would cease the moment we ended this insane "war."

Alcohol was once demonized to the same extent that hard drugs are today. Prohibition lasted for almost 14 years, and compared to our war on drugs, that was a very brief time. But somehow we were wise enough back then to realize that prohibition was a failed experiment, that people were going to drink regardless, and making it illegal was only creating a black market in which hoodlums could prosper and law enforcement was wasting precious time and resources battling them.

So why have we not shown the same degree of wisdom and changed course on our war on drugs? First and foremost, there are too many people and institutions today that are making money off this infernal war. And I’m not just talking about the obvious bad guys that make up the cartels and their various hierarchies, but industries like our privatized prison-industrial complex, big banks that have made countless billions laundering drug money, Big Pharma, the many institutions that receive federal funds strictly earmarked for the war on drugs, and even the local police forces that now have a policy whereby they're allowed to keep the booty from their drug busts. We have become a nation that emphasizes profit over virtually everything else, and as long as some people or institutions in our corporate fascist system are making money off this war, those profits will take precedence.

And the other reason is the Christian extremists, whom, for reasons I can't quite fathom, we let have way too much influence, politically and socially, as they make their feeble argument, like you seem to be making, that legalization would be tantamount to condoning it, and that just wouldn’t be right or moral. But we cannot afford to keep indulging in this warm and fuzzy feeling of “it just wouldn’t be right” to justify what is obviously a failed experiment.

I know that you profess to be a Christian of some degree but are not what one might call an extremist or fundamentalist. Yet you seem to share this ambiguity with them that is in fact inexcusable and just another reason to keep us from taking a wiser, bolder course of action.

February 13, 2014 at 1:56 p.m.
Ki said...

a sampling of 10 brilliant inovators who used drugs:

__ 1. Thomas Edison

__ 2. Andrew Weil

__ 3. Sigmund Freud

__ 4. John C. Lily

__ 5. Steven King

__ 6. Steve Job

__ 7. Francis Crick

__ 8. Kary Mullis

__ 9. Willaim Burroughs

_ 10. Friedrich Nietsche

February 13, 2014 at 4:06 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

11.__Ki (one who was not brilliant and not an innovator, just a dupe of dupes.) Just to help you keep this straight in your addled mind, I said NOTHING about drug use and brilliance. I said brilliant people did not end up dead in the dirt with a needle in the arm.

February 13, 2014 at 5:07 p.m.
Ki said...

Now, that's funny as he!!, sago. Glad to see you found your sense of humor. Actually, I can't tolerate anything stronger than a can of coca-cola or cup of hot tea (with lemon preferred). But I'm still LMAO at that __ #11. :)

But you would be wrong. Brilliance doesn't guarantee one will never end up dead from a drug overdose or alcohol. We just don't always hear about it unless it results in a death.

February 13, 2014 at 5:12 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

That technique is called tension decontamination through the use of humor. It always works with the mentally ill!Thank you for playing, Number 11.

February 13, 2014 at 5:16 p.m.
Ki said...

Glad to see you're able to finally come to terms and admit you have mental issues, sago. Now the next step would be to seek professional help. ;)

February 13, 2014 at 5:50 p.m.
jesse said...

ROO just summed it up and put it in a nutshell!AND anybody that thinks "Meditation" will solve drug addiction is delusional and totally out of touch w/what addiction really is!!

February 13, 2014 at 8:32 p.m.
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