In the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, a daughter reflects on her father's struggles with drugs.
Heroin kills. The drug devastates the body, erodes the mind, eats at the teeth and leaves ugly track marks.
But the physical toll on the individual does not compare with the emotional vacuum of a person the drug creates. Shooting up becomes their world. It is all about getting that next fix.
My father could have passed away of a heroin overdose, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, Cory Monteith, 31, and a long list before them.
Thankfully, my dad has been in recovery for a number of years. But I still wonder if that's how he'll eventually die. Although deaths from drug overdoses like Hoffman's usually stun the public, families of addicts live with the constant fear of one last wrong choice.
I've been mentally preparing for my father's funeral since I was a little girl. I've envisioned the casket, who would attend the service, how I would feel after he was no longer here, a mix of anger and deep sadness.
My father has been in and out of my life because he couldn't stay sober for long periods when I was growing up. I don't know him well. And he doesn't know a great deal about me. I'm told he's proud of me. I do love him.
Sad but true: Heroin just seems so powerful, too strong for those held captive by the sheer force of that intense rush.
AFTER DETOX: High risk of overdose
Unfortunately, the drug is on the rise again in the United States. The number of regular heroin users increased from 239,000 in 2010 to 335,000 in 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in December. Heroin use is still low compared with other drugs, but it is making a comeback.
Heroin does not discriminate based on geographic location or socioeconomic status. It's not just an inner-city problem. We were a family in a blue-collar town in New Jersey with a stay-at-home mom and a dad who worked in construction.
My family's story is similar to many that I've heard: My parents divorced because my father became more concerned with begging for money for a fix than seeing his two young daughters off to school.
He lost everything — his family, home, money, driver's license and self-respect. He's lived on the street and in halfway houses, done stints in jail and gone through drug rehabilitation programs.
Years later, I know that with one overdose and a paramedic's late arrival, he could be gone. That would mean we'd never rekindle our lost relationship.
Fear my father will die from an overdose is the reason I strongly support syringe exchange programs, in which addicts receive clean needles and information about rehab.
It is the reason why I am so thankful that more police departments are taking a hard look at equipping their police officers and other first responders with naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose instantly.
Because to me, heroin abuse looks like my dad, with his pretty brown eyes and oversize nose. Even though he has been clean for years, goes to church often and is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous with a sponsor and a network, I know that, after a split-second decision to use just one more time, heroin could take him.
I know, as in the case of Hoffman, who was said to have been sober for 23 years, heroin kills people you admire, people you love — fast.