It's a killer
The brilliant actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death Feb. 2 vaulted heroin to the front page. Police found Mr. Hoffman dead in his bathroom with a needle in his arm and several packets of heroin nearby.
But the preceding weeks revealed the destructive power of heroin and worse, its staying power.
In Pennsylvania alone in January, at least 22 people died after injecting doses of heroin that had been contaminated with the powerful synthetic pain-killer fentanyl, which authorities described as being 100 times more powerful than morphine.
That was part of a three-state toll of more more than 50 people who have died from the contaminated heroin.
State and federal investigators are engaged in a frantic search for the source of the deadly mixture, which could have been contaminated anywhere from the source of the pure drug in Afghanistan or Mexico to anywhere along the international distribution chain to the local dealer. Authorities tried to warn users even as the death toll mounted.
Northeast Pennsylvania has had a particular problem with heroin, fueled partly by proximity to distribution networks in New York and New Jersey. The Review's front page on Friday had a story about a New York City man who was arrested in the area after he was found to be in possession of 90 packets of heroin.
There is no easy answer to the problem. Enforcement chips away at the supply while inadequate treatment options chip away at demand. The federal government needs to invest more in research for a means to break the addiction's powerful grip.
But Mr. Hoffman's case also demonstrates that power. He had been drug-free for more than 20 years. In a sad foreshadowing of what was to come, when asked who he was by someone at the Sundance Film Festival who had not recognized him, the Oscar-winning veteran of more than 50 films and scores of stage plays responded, "I'm a heroin addict."