How Ravers Pioneered the Trend That Killed Philip Seymour Hoffman

When Karina moved to Miami Beach from Eastern Europe in 2007, she used no nicotine, no alcohol, no drugs, nothing. Although she'd had a problem in her midteens with booze and MDMA, the 22-year-old was determined to begin her new life in America clean and sober.

Drug deaths have surpassed automobile fatalities and gun homicides.

Soon after she arrived, however, she fell in with a crowd of hard-partying Russians and began drinking again. Before long, she started snorting cocaine to wake herself up when she drank too much vodka. But it was only when she met a group of local gay men who hung out at clubs that her drug use really took off.

Now Karina (not her real name) was doing not only coke but also molly, GHB, and the animal tranquilizer ketamine. Strangely, when she tried crystal meth for the first time, she fell asleep on the toilet and missed work. She was often seen on the dance floor wearing a fanny pack — which she dubbed "the crack pack" — containing not just drugs but also sugar packets, Pedialyte strips, and a banana that helped her ease the inevitable crash. Her friends called her "Dyson," after the vacuum cleaner, because of her ability to suck up large amounts of cocaine. Still, she remained functional — she held down a demanding day job as a computer programmer that often involved 12- to 14-hour shifts. And she never took drugs at work.

Hoffman succumbed to a lethal mix.
Columbia Pictures
Hoffman succumbed to a lethal mix.

But then a couple of her comrades became addicted, and others lost their jobs. She found that the older she got, the longer it took to recover from drug binges. Today she restricts herself to alcohol and cocaine, but, she admits, even that's difficult, especially given the environment. "It's hard not to take drugs living in South Beach," she says in heavily accented English. "Different types of drugs are everywhere, and people share them all the time. This is not a town where it's easy to be straight-edged."

So-called polydrug use — mixing various street drugs and/or prescription drugs either sequentially or simultaneously — will probably be in evidence this week as Winter Music Conference and then Ultra Music Festival hit Miami. Some of the estimated 300,000 people expected to attend the events might consume potentially dangerous drug cocktails while ignorant of the potential pitfalls. Just how dangerous was recently underscored by the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was discovered last month on the bathroom floor of his Greenwich Village townhouse with a needle stuck in his arm. What was initially reported as a suspected fatal heroin overdose turned out be a polydrug death involving not only heroin but also cocaine, amphetamine, and prescription tranquilizers. A combo of heroin and alcohol is bad enough. That's what killed Glee star Cory Monteith, who was found surrounded by empty champagne bottles and drug wrappers in a Vancouver hotel room last July. Combining heroin and cocaine — a "speedball" — is even worse. That's what killed comedian John Belushi. But two stimulants piled on top of two depressants? Reason columnist Jacob Sullum speculates the stimulants might have masked the effects of the depressants, causing Hoffman to take more heroin than usual.

Celebrities and electronic-music fans aren't the only ones consuming dangerous drug cocktails. Increasingly, ordinary consumers are turning to perilous polydrug use. In Florida, there were 117 heroin-related deaths in 2012 (the last year for which numbers are available), only one of which was heroin on its own, a single case in Sanford, according to the state medical examiner's office.

And it's not just heroin. In Miami, there wasn't a single cocaine-related death that didn't involve other substances. The most common ingredient found locally in fatal drug mixes is the prescription tranquilizer benzodiazepine (followed by alcohol, oxycodone, and cocaine), not surprising perhaps because in recent years Florida has stood at the epicenter of a massive wave of prescription drug abuse that only now is subsiding.

In 2009, James N. Hall, a drug epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University, conducted an analysis of 1,185 Florida oxycodone deaths in which the drug was considered to be the main cause. Seventy-two percent also had one or more benzodiazepines in their systems at the time of death, and 42 percent had at least one other opioid in addition to oxycodone.

On the national level, drug deaths have doubled in the past decade to surpass automobile fatalities and gun homicides as the leading cause of accidental death in America. The reason is not that more people are using drugs but that people are using more dangerous combinations. "Substance abuse in America has become more dangerous, more addictive, and more deadly than any other period in our lifetimes," says Hall, who recently warned of an "emerging heroin epidemic" in Florida.

The list of famous actors and musicians killed over the years by polydrug use is long. Jimi Hendrix died from barbiturates and alcohol. Janis Joplin expired from heroin and alcohol. Whitney Houston was killed by a toxic combo of alcohol, cocaine, Xanax, the antihistamine DBH, and a muscle relaxant. Chris Farley, River Phoenix, Alice in Chains' Layne Staley, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all died from mixing cocaine with heroin or morphine.

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DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Why are humans so unhappy?


Ixne Hendrix I have to say.  He was really murdered. 


    as someone who was a hard drinking nightcrawler for 2 decades in NYC, and never lost his job or missed a day of work even if I had never went to bed, I feel for all of these people. It is both hard and boring and socially limiting to be straight and sober. I purposely stayed away from pills and drugs because I loved being altered, loved every thing about alcohol, and knew I would take drugs too far. "Know your dose and stay away from pills and powder" is pretty good advice. Moderation is good advice, but what fun is that? Couple years sober, with boring days and socially limited life, but at least I am not being fired or struggling through another day exhausted and nauseous. It is fun to play on the edge of of the world, but it is OK to step back, and just be happy to be alive. Breathing is pretty fun too, as opposed to not breathing.  


Since she admittedly has such a hard time avoiding hard drugs in Miami Beach, perhaps a MOVE would help; the only reason she continues to live there is because she loves her rugs more than anything else.


Know your dose and stay away from pills and powders.  Simple as that.