Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's heroin overdose death last month shocked many fans.

Although the 46-year-old had battled addiction as a young man, he supposedly had been clean for decades and was said to be a role model of sorts for others on the road to recovery.

But those familiar with heroin and its effects probably were less surprised the drug claimed a well-respected performer at the top of his game.

Heroin users come from all walks of life and their numbers are increasing, due in part to prescription drug abusers switching a cheaper, more readily available fix.

According to The Partnership at Drugfree.org, the number of Americans who reported past-year use climbed from 373,000 in 2007 to 620,000 in 2011. Pennsylvania now ranks third in the country for heroin abuse, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, said.

Roughly corresponding to this trend is a sharp spike in the number of heroin-related deaths — 45 percent from 2006 to 2010, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reported.

York County is not immune: Last year there were 16 confirmed heroin deaths, plus two more that appear to be related to the opiate.

So far this year, newly elected Coroner Pam Gay already has seen four confirmed overdoses, and she suspects nine others will be ruled heroin-related.

"You can see we're already at a significant rate above what we were last year," she said.

The alarming statistics have officials scrambling for ways to combat it.

Gay, York County District Attorney Tom Kearney and local police said this week they're working together on new approaches, from awareness campaigns to aggressively prosecuting dealers. Those include automatic autopsies on all suspected heroin deaths, which will provide evidence prosecutors can use when they go after the heroin pushers.

At the national level, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey introduced a bill Thursday to address heroin and other opiate drug abuse.

The Prescription Drug Abuse Act of 2013 includes the creation of a grant program for states and nonprofits to conduct consumer education on opioid abuse and the establishment of a National Opioid Death Registry.

"Too many people are falling victim to either prescription drug abuse or heroin abuse," Casey said as he unveiled his legislation.

Gay said most of York's prescription drug deaths occur in users between their 20s and 50s.

They're children and parents, she said, and "there's a face to all of them,"

For the general public, perhaps no victim is as familiar as Hoffman.

And now the actor known for his "average guy" roles has become the face of this growing health crisis.