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What can parents learn from the Phillip Seymour Hoffman death?

Dr. Gregory Smith Los Angeles
Dr. Smith

Heroin now returns as the new Public Enemy #1 with the recent sad death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. From iconic movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe to ground breaking musicians like Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix, America has once again had its heart broken by a drug related celebrity death.

As unfortunate as it is that the tragic death of a man such as Phillip Seymour Hoffman whose Hollywood career was short in comparison to his talent, his accolades and the long list of personal achievements he has left behind, including an Oscar, is the catalyst to spur all of us to once again remember the true dangers of drug use and addiction.

"Drug addiction is no longer just in the hood, it's in everyone's neighborhood, rich, poor and everyone in between," says well known addiction expert Gregory A. Smith, M.D., Medical Director of GS Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. "I have been shouting this from the rooftops for the past few years and thankfully my voice can now be heard."

Dr. Gregory A. Smith, producer of the popular movie 'American Addict' has been detoxing and treating drug addiction at his practice in Los Angeles for over a decade. What worries him most is the fact that heroin and powerful legal prescription drugs such as OxyContin, or 'hillbilly heroin' as it is known, have found their way onto the playground of middle-schools and high-schools across the nation. However, as bad as heroin is for the human body, the fact that it is now being laced with the highly dangerous Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic, which might be safe when administered in the operating room or prescribed for cancer pain, but is a death sentence when mixed with heroin, as is the possible case with Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

"The incredible 24/7 pressure of being in the media spotlight does significantly increase the possibility for any celebrity to seek the comfort and relief of drugs," noted Dr. Smith. "But, while all eyes are on the Phillip Seymour Hoffman story, I want parents to take a good look around their own home for evidence of alcohol and drug use among their children and other family members before it's too late."

Dr. Smith offers these tips for parents to see if a teenager or loved family member is abusing drugs or alcohol.

1. Teenagers and young adults who are starting to use drugs may throw parents and teachers off track by admitting to use of a lesser drug, like marijuana, when harder drugs are the real problem.

2. Drugs are expensive. Impaired judgment also leads many people to get in financial hot water. Your child or loved one might suddenly start selling possessions on eBay, or to other kids, when they've never done so before.

3. Vodka is a drink of choice for alcoholics for one reason only; it's clear and looks like water when poured into a tumbler. A teenager might mix it with a sports drink trying to give the impression that they are drinking a healthy vitamin infused soft drink, when in reality they are having a vodka cocktail.

4. Becoming more unreliable and secretive is a trademark of the alcoholic or addict. They start to forget appointments, miss important events, show up late to work or ditch school.

5. As addiction takes hold, it tends to block out other interests and activities that used to be important sources of pleasure and fulfillment. Loss of interest in friends, sports, social activities, and anything else that used to define someone can be a clue that something is not right.

6. Rapid weight loss. Weight loss is usually seen as positive in our society, so it's often overlooked as a symptom of drug abuse. If your kid's pants are sagging it may not be a fashion statement, it could be a sign of malnutrition-induced weight loss, often seen in substance abusers.

7. People with addiction problems tend to increase the quantity and frequency of their substance of choice without showing signs of being out of control.

8. Over time, addicts develop a network of hiding placed IN YOUR HOUSE. Check under the bathroom sink - is there a bottle or a baggy hiding behind the Ajax?

9. The need for money and the desperation of addiction make everything in your home susceptible. If items like cameras and jewelry begin to disappear from your house this is a sign of escalating drug use. The same goes for missing credit cards and cash.

According to Dr. Smith, genetics, stress, abnormal brain chemistry and environment are major factors leading to addiction and the dangerous and sometimes fatal behaviors that cut short these lives so full of promise. Treatment of addiction has to address all these factors or relapse is almost a certainty. The prescription narcotic epidemic has fueled the resurgence of heroin use in the United States because it's often cheaper than prescription narcotics and the purity of heroin has never been higher.

Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdose and approximately 70% of people who abuse prescription medications get them from family or friends, often from the medicine cabinet.

"It's time for parents to step up and take action to protect their children because many of these abusers are young children and teenagers," said Dr. Smith. "Your action, or lack thereof, may be the difference between life and death."


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