07/17/2013 11:34 EDT | Updated 09/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Addicts Can Hide Their Problems, New West Counsellor Says

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Many drug addicts become actors — professional or otherwise — to hide their illness, says an addictions counsellor in New Westminster, B.C.

Jared Nilsson, a former heroin addict himself, says the problem can be easier to hide than most think.

Nilsson, now a counsellor at Last Door Recovery Society in New Westminster, said Cory Monteith "is a professional actor. So go figure. He can hide his drug use."

Monteith, 31, was found dead in his hotel room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver on Saturday. According to the B.C. Coroners Service, the 31-year-old died from a toxic mix of heroin and alcohol.

Friends and colleagues expressed shock at news of the Canadian actor's death.

Though Monteith dabbled with drugs and alcohol as a teen in Victoria, he has addressed his addictions in public and even checked himself into a 30-day rehab program last April.

Those who saw Monteith during his final days in Vancouver said he seemed positive and upbeat.

Jason Senghera, a 32-year-old recovering addict, said he worked as an electrician for years without ever being late or calling in sick.

"I'd sneak off, go into my truck at lunch break, say I was going to eat somewhere else, or just go around the corner," he said.

Senghera, who has now been clean for seven months, said no one ever suspected he was taking heroin — at least, until he started rapidly losing weight and running out of money.

"It felt like just normal life after I'd smoked it for so long and used it for so long that it was just like it was an everyday thing," he said. "Without it I'd feel more weird."

Health officials say they hope Monteith's high-profile death will serve as a warning about potent street drugs.

"I think this death just raises that fear a little more and maybe makes people more aware," said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake. "And hopefully that will reduce that number of inadvertent overdoses."

More than 200 people die in B.C. each year from accidental drug overdoses.

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