THE BLOG

Our National Night of Conversation

I am asking every family to have a conversation at their dinner table. This conversation could save lives. Lately I've been speaking to people who are asking for help with another problem that many are too embarrassed, or ashamed, to discuss. This public health crisis now kills more Americans than guns, falls, or even car accidents.
11/18/2015 04:34pm ET | Updated November 18, 2016
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Join Dr. Oz's #NightOfConversation livestream here at 5:30.

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I am asking every family to have a conversation at their dinner table. This conversation could save lives. Lately I've been speaking to people who are asking for help with another problem that many are too embarrassed, or ashamed, to discuss. This public health crisis now kills more Americans than guns, falls, or even car accidents. The odds are that you know someone dealing with this problem right now and you know even more people who are at risk. It has a genetic component, so a family history increases the risk even more. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm talking about drug addiction and overdose.

About 27 million people in this country use illegal drugs or prescription drugs for non-medical purposes and the CDC has said we are in the midst of an overdose epidemic. For many, the addiction starts with prescription painkillers and when a physician no longer refills an opioid prescription, illegal drugs become an unintentional and deadly alternative. In fact research suggests that four out of five heroin users started with prescription drugs.

You might be surprised to learn that most addictions start at a young age. In fact nine out of 10 people with substance use problems started using by age 18. Healthcorps, a non-profit organization I founded with my wife Lisa that teaches kids to live healthier lives, recently conducted a survey of about 200 high school students from around the country on their attitudes about drugs and alcohol. What we found is suggestive of some of the root causes of our current drug crisis. Two-third of students either didn't think or didn't know that prescription drugs could be as addictive as illegal drugs. Most surprisingly, while over 80 percent of the students thought heroin was addictive, only about half of students thought Vicodin was, which was the same percentage of students who said soda was addictive!

Like the obesity epidemic, solving our drug addiction problem is not going to be easy and going to take a multifaceted approach of public and private interventions to change policy and the environment. President Obama announced some of the first steps during his recent visit to West Virginia, one of the hardest states hit by opioid addiction. The president started a conversation that we all must now continue. Simply discussing drugs with your family is one step everyone can take right now that can truly make a big difference and help prevent this problem from continuing to grow. Research from the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, shows that when parents are engaged in their kids' lives, especially through archetypes like family dinners, kids are less likely to develop unhealthy relationships with alcohol and other substances. Studies also show that kids who learn about the risks of alcohol and other drugs are 50 percent less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

In our survey of Healthcorps students, we were pleased to see that over 80 percent of kids had talked about alcohol and illegal drugs with their families, but only about half had talked about the dangers of addictive prescription drugs.

It's time we all realized that prescription drugs are just as dangerous as illegal drugs and discussed all drugs (illegal, prescription, and alcohol) with our families. I'm going to sit down to dinner with mine this Thursday during the National Night of Conversation and do just this. I'm sure whatever Lisa has planned for dinner will be delicious, but on this night the conversation will be more important than the meal (sorry Lisa). I hope you will all join me as well and post a picture of an empty plate on social media with #NightOfConversation to show that you too have chosen to combat this crisis and end the silence and save lives.

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Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.