The Tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman: How We Can Prevent Overdose Deaths

February 2014

Drug Policy Alliance Harm Reduction Manager Meghan Ralston discusses the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and acknowledges the need to improve drug policies.

"The suspected overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman is hitting millions of people, including myself, like a tsunami today. The story keeps unfolding and the tragedy just keeps compounding. 

Recent reports are suggesting that he was discovered with a needle in his arm and bags of a substance (presumed to be heroin) nearby. Like many of you, I was a huge fan of his, considered him to be the most gifted actor of his generation. And like many of you, I am horrified to think that he died from something so often easily prevented.

What makes the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman all the more tragic is that it happened in New York, a state with a wide array of policies and services designed to reduce drug overdose deaths and save the lives of people who use drugs. New York has a 911 Good Samaritan law, which offers some protection from drug charges for people who call 911 to report a suspected overdose. Many people panic at the scene of an overdose, fearing they or the overdose victim will be arrested for possessing small amounts of drugs. Good Samaritan laws in over a dozen states, including New York, encourage people to act quickly to save a life without fear of drug charges for minor violations. New Yorkers also have limited access to the opiate overdose reversal medicine naloxone. If administered right away, naloxone can can reverse an overdose and restore normal breathing.

Naloxone is generic, inexpensive, non-narcotic, works quickly and is not only safe, but also easy to use. It's been around since the 1970s and has saved tens of thousands of lives. New York also just this week introduced legislation to expand access to it."

To continue reading, please visit