Harm-reduction services could have prevented Philip Seymour Hoffman’s fatal overdose

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      The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users lost one of its newest members last week, the organization’s president, Dave Hamm, told the Straight.

      “He was just starting to get involved and come around and stuff,” Hamm said in a telephone interview. “So it’s really sad when that happened.”

      The man’s name was Jorge Arguelles, the B.C. Coroners Service confirmed. His body was found on January 24 in a single-room apartment in Chinatown. Hamm said it looks like a heroin overdose.

      Philip Seymour Hoffman died not long after Arguelles, on February 2. He was found in the bathroom of a Manhattan apartment with a needle in his arm. The passing of an Academy Award winner received more attention. But circumstances around the two deaths were quite similar, as were those of Glee star Cory Monteith’s fatal overdose that occured in Vancouver last summer.

      Hamm said all three men broke the first rule of doing drugs: don't use alone.

      He stressed that opiate overdose deaths are actually very preventable, and referred to Insite as proof.

      According to Vancouver Coastal Health, 497 overdoses occurred at the supervised injection facility in 2012, the most-recent year for which statistics are available. Not one of those incidents resulted in death.

      That same point was reiterated in a separate interview with by Dr. Ronald Joe, an associate medical director of addiction services with Vancouver Coastal Health.

      “As bad as it is to use illicit drugs, there are safer ways to use them,” he said.

      “There are a whole range of depots available both for adults and youth, where people can go in and get harm-reduction supplies,” Joe began. “Needles and tourniquet and clean materials to draw up drugs.”

      He directed people to a B.C. Centre for Disease Control website where there is more information about those facilities and their locations, which, he noted, extend far beyond Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

      Joe said there are also services offered for cases in which someone might be at risk of an overdose.

      Almost two years ago now, Joe recalled, he became involved in a program called Toward the Heart.

      The pilot project teaches friends and family members of drug users how to prevent death in the event of an overdose. It also facilitates the distribution of what are called take-home naloxone kits. Naloxone is a drug that’s prescribed to opiate users in B.C. and, when required, can be used to counter the effects of an overdose.

      Of course not everybody plans ahead, Joe acknowledged. And so people should know that in the event of an overdose, a person can call 911 for help and not have to worry about getting themselves into trouble.

      “We have a good samaritan law in B.C,” Joe explained. “It’s a simple law anyone can read. It says that anyone who is trying to do a good turn is protected by this law.” (The act is only three sections long and can be viewed here.)

      Joe also wanted to get the word out about detox services offered in Vancouver, which many people can access for free.

      “With detox, it’s like there is a connotation attached to it that it is really hard and difficult,” he said. “I work in detox and it’s not like it used to be. There are medications that help people detoxify, so they’re not going into really serious withdrawal during detox.”

      Hamm argued that addicts would use drugs in safer ways if it weren’t for social stigmas that drive many people to hide their habits.

      “These are the things we always say: Test yourself, don’t use alone, and try not to mix, especially with alcohol,” he emphasized. “Things like this are really sad. But it’s really easy—a no-brainer, and just a medical thing—to prevent this from happening.”

      You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.




      Feb 5, 2014 at 6:02pm

      Yes, a world famous actor is going to shoot up with a bunch of skids in full view of the public. He could have paid someone to watch him and he did not even now, he didn't because he did not want to.

      straight talker

      Feb 5, 2014 at 6:14pm

      not taking drug "would" have prevented Philip Seymour Hoffman's death.


      Feb 5, 2014 at 6:41pm

      @straight talker, sometimes these things can be a little more complicated than that.


      Feb 5, 2014 at 6:47pm

      Was this entire story written as a backdoor attack on Licia Corbella? Not that that would be such a bad idea. But it sort of feels like that.


      Feb 6, 2014 at 12:40am

      Probably as much of an attack on Licia Corbella as on Stephen Harper and Nancy Reagan.
      Yes it would have been unlikely that P S Hoffman, would have used a skid-row safe-injection site. That doesn't mean he wouldn't still be alive, if harm-reduction were more widely practiced and addiction was treated as a medical instead of a criminal matter.

      400 ppm

      Feb 6, 2014 at 5:34am

      In the name of climate justice I demand that the GS stop wasting energy on click bait.

      wealth is impoverishing

      Feb 6, 2014 at 7:53am

      It is clear that there are interests who benefit from perpetuating this medieval and predatory mentality encapsulated by the war on drugs, drug users and the non-privileged.


      Feb 6, 2014 at 8:52am

      Obviously the OP have never been around junkies, and make no mistake FSH was a junkie. He would have stole from his family to support his habit if he didn't have the funds.

      According the the Lancer (the most respected medical journal in the world there is no other drug that has a higher death rate then heroin. The only thing that would have MAYBE helped him would have been a tough intervention and rehab, not a "safe" way to inject drugs. Every time a heroin addicts shoots up he/she is killing himself and eventually they will die from it.

      I say Phillip Symor Heroin go exactly what he deserved and wanted. Its not like he didnt know the dangers.

      To make matters worse he chose to continue after having three kids. Seriously, he was nothing more then a junkie.


      Feb 6, 2014 at 11:52am

      VANDU is part of the poverty industry that wants to maintain the DES as a ghetto. They are funded by taxpayers somewhere around $280,000 per year and inflate their membership rolls by doling out a "stipend" to members. For years they were operating their offices without a permit from the city and were bad neighbours to other businesses on their street when VANDU "members" vandalized property whilst waiting for their handout.

      The "four pillars" approach was a good idea but unfortunately momentum was lost once the safe injection site was opened. The groups that made that their primary focus no longer had a reason to cooperate with the other stakeholders and the other pillars remain neglected. Sadly there is a group of people who are happy to see money pouring into the DES lining the pockets of "activists," "advocates" and other folks who are "helping" even as their efforts are focused on maintaining the ghetto. Between the profiteers who know that the money will keep flowing as long as the "problem" exists and the believers in failed ideologies who believe the misery is a precursor to "revolution" the people in need are largely left to fend for themselves.

      Look at the management of groups like Atria and the Portland Hotel Society: high salaries, benefits and subsidized meals at the Carnegie are part of their "help." Some of the salaries move into the lower reaches of the 1%. Some of the highly paid managers are partners of politicians or BC Housing executives: the MLA for the DES and her husband who works in the poverty industry are seen as strong advocates for those in need and take home around $500,000 per year for being such good "socialists."

      If PHS had been one of the addicts in the DES he would still have ended up dying in the neghbourhood. An addict living in the DES is just a tool for the myriad groups providing aid or using the people for props for their cause. Groups like VANDU, Atria and PHS profit from the misery and only wish to maintain the misery rather than acting to end it. Money and ideology are powerful draws for the greedy or conditioned. Keeping people in need lining up for services or arranging a "safe" fix keeps the money rolling in. When the media tried to find out just how much money has disappeared into the DES overt he last decade they found over $1 billion not counting private donations.

      cranky mom

      Feb 6, 2014 at 12:41pm

      if karma & reincarnation are real, then I hope all you holier than thou commenters come back as drug addicts. we are all addicted to something, only some of you are under the illusion that alcohol, online porn or work is somehow ok.