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Prevention director hopes Philip Seymour Hoffman's death is a wake up call

By ANNA MEILER

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) -- The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman is shedding light on the heroin epidemic nationwide and Central New York is no stranger to the problem.

The actor was found dead in his apartment Sunday with a needle in his arm and law enforcement officials found 50 bags of what they believe to be heroin.

Prevention director for Insight House, Paul Vitagliano, said heroin is the most popular drug locally and that the problem has increased to an epidemic. At Insight House, half of their admissions are for using prescription medications- a major gateway to heroin use. He says when their prescriptions run out, many turn to heroin, which has become easily accessible.

Vitagliano uses celebrities as examples to teach young people not to experiment with heroin and other drugs. Hoffman is now being added to his list of 500 celebrities that have overdosed, died or been arrested for driving under the influence.

Vitagliano hopes locals take away the following message from his death.

"That it is real. It can happen. Everybody who uses, everybody who experiments thinks, 'It won't happen to me. I'm smart, I won't do that, I wouldn't be that stupid,' but they have to realize a lot of the decisions they're making, they're under the influence when they're making them so they're not clear-headed. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the people using heroin are letting somebody else shoot them up and think about- is that person sober? Is that person really educated or well enough to be putting something in my arm? No," said Vitagliano.

Even if the addiction isn't fatal, there are many more issues to consider when thinking about picking up a needle for the first time. Needle sharing can spread diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV and Vitagliano says after frequent injections, "those veins collapse. They have to go to the other arm, the leg, the neck, the eyes, they go everywhere and we've seen cases with some people with some horrendous looking effects that would scare me away at least and hopefully anybody else."

Vitagliano works with students as young as the sixth grade to try to break the cycle of addiction. He said the number one reason kids start experimenting is because their parents or older siblings are users. He says the community can help with educating the youth.

"Keep talking about it. Don't let, like I said, don't let this story die after next week when everyone forgets about Philip Seymour Hoffman. They'll have a tribute to him next year at the Oscars of the Emmy's or whatever it may be and then people will forget about it, but we have to keep it right up front. Keep talking about it, keep talking to kids and keep the conversation going," he said.

Philip Seymour Hoffman had undergone treatment for drug addiction in the past. Vitagliano said recovering addicts can stay on course by having an exit strategy with a support group, meetings and someone to call if you're in trouble and that without that plan you're planning to fail.

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