The recent death of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has stunned the world; however, his relationship with drugs and problem with addiction is not unique. Throughout history a plethora of famous figures’ deaths have been attributed to drugs, including Janis Joplin, Judy Garland and Heath Ledger, proving the longevity of this issue. The advancement of technology and media has only meant that more than ever, our society is shaped by the drug industry and the crippling effects addiction can have on an individual. This intense media coverage over the lives and addictions of celebrities means that at least to some extent, society as a whole have some knowledge of addiction, with many individuals being personally affected by drugs either themselves or through relatives and friends. Indeed, the presence of drugs within society is only increasing, with the Health and Social Care Information Centre reporting a five percent increase from 2011-12 in admissions to hospital with a primary diagnosis of a drug-related mental health issue. Despite the fact that there are many opposing views on the matter of illegal drug taking and how best to combat it, it can be agreed that addiction and overdoses have become a social and cultural conundrum that must needs unpicking if we are to discover the reality of how to deal with drugs en masse.
Our perception of celebrities suffering from drug addictions in particular can be seen to shed light on how we perceive drugs as a society. The public’s reaction to the death of a celebrity can differ greatly, with half vilifying the person for besmirching their reputation and disregarding them as an anathema, and the other concentrating on the pressures and stresses that forced them to turn to drugs to begin with. Philip Seymour Hoffman in particular proves the point that addictions are not limited to young and fast paced individuals who are usually associated with drugs, and that it is not just ‘party animals’ who can be influenced and have the potential to become dependent on drugs. Addictions are in a sense unbiased in the fact that they can affect anyone. The old, the young, the rich and the poor can all become victims of addiction. Certain public figures that have successfully identified their dependency on drugs have joined the battle to eradicate them from society. Recently Matthew Perry appeared on Jeremy Paxman’s Newsnight in regards to the issue, and Russell Brand has on numerous occasions discussed his personal experience with illegal substances.
Celebrities can therefore be seen as complicated figures in relation to drugs: it can either be their downfall, or a cause in which they can be very influential over the question of how to decrease the amount of people drugs affect. Those such as Perry and Brand have argued for the promotion of drug courts and abstinence based recovery respectively, two of many approaches argued for in regards to those who have existing addiction issues. Comparatively, those such as Peter Hitchens can be seen to hold a more pessimistic view that encourages the criminalisation of drug addicts instead of encouraging rehabilitation and the treatment of addiction as an issue of health. So the real question that remains is how do we interrupt the rising number of people developing unhealthy relationships with drugs? I tend to agree with those who see addiction as an issue of health and social care, advocating a support system that helps them abstain from taking drugs and addressing their initial reasoning for turning to drugs rather than hoping that a more severe punishment will deter individuals from taking drugs to begin with. Addiction is overall a very personal matter, something that the law should reflect.