One of my favorite bloggers did a post on mourning the drug overdose death of Philip Hoffman. It was a very nice and appropriate post, but something made me want to propose another angle.
Because of their fame one person’s overdose is highlighted while more than 100 people die everyday in the US by OD, and their deaths, like many of their lives, are hardly noticed. The Huffington Press reports:
The world can be a dangerous place, but even with all the bad drivers, treacherous heights and violence, more people are dying from drug overdoses than from any other cause of injury death, including traffic accidents, falls or guns.
According to the latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdoses were responsible for 38,329 deaths in 2010, 30,006 of which were unintentional. That’s a rate of 105 every day, and that number doesn’t take into account the 6,748 people treated every day for the misuse or abuse of drugs.
In comparison, traffic accidents were responsible for 33,687 deaths in 2010. Firearms killed 31,672 people, and 26,852 died as a result of falling.
I’ve had a number of friends over the years OD and I currently have several friends who use potentially lethal doses of crystal meth, alcohol, crack cocaine, and heroin almost everyday. If any of them OD and die (some lucky ones actually live through an overdose) they’re not likely to even get a mention in their local news obit. They’re not less important, just less celebrated than actor Phillip Hoffman. It’s obvious that we are familiar with him or Heath Ledger or Chris Farley because of their laudable talent on the screen. Whitney Houston, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morison, Keith Moon, Michael Jackson, Janis Joplin, and many other music heroes of ours died prematurely from ODing and, as it should be, we still grieve our loss.
Wikipedia has an extensive list of drug related deaths of “notable people.” I couldn’t believe how long it was, but not nearly as long as a “non-notable list” would be. “Don’t be silly,” a voice inside me says. It wouldn’t be a hit, but at least someone would show some notice of the un-notable. I’m not volunteering. I’m just saying…
We mourn the deaths of our pop culture icons and rightly so. They had almost supernatural abilities to entertain us and now that they’re gone we all miss out. But what about those whose abilities are not so prominent and whose opportunities not nearly so available? They – as much as any rock star, actor, or sports legend – bear God’s likeness, and their lives cut short by killer inebriants mark just as terrible a tragedy. God loved the perennial derelict that died in a gutter in San Francisco’s Tenderloin as tearfully as the millionaire actor who breathed his last in a West Village apartment. Maybe we should take a cue from him on that.
Before her recent death, Tina performed funerals for people who died, mostly from overdoses, in SROs (single room occupancy hotels – aka slum apartments) in San Francisco. These hotels can be so bad that when someone dies in their room, they’ll remove his/her body and rent the space without even cleaning it! Tina was often the only person who showed up to show respects for the lonely soul, because she felt even the most derelict person deserved as much as that.
We all know about drug addiction and poverty, but how many of us know a poor drug addict? And how many of us would grieve, attend a funeral, or write an obituary for one such person? Millions miss Hoffman and Hendrix, how many miss the other hundred who died yesterday?