Opioids & Mental Health in America: What To Know

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Dr. Daniel Amen’s recent visit to the White House to discuss our country’s opioid epidemic raised plenty of questions about how addiction can be treated or prevented. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the current state of heroin use, the most current and effective methods for treating this deadly addiction, and strategies to keep your children from exposing themselves to opiates.


Read Full Transcript

Tana Amen: Welcome back to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Today we're going to talk about the opiate crisis in the United States. Before we start, I want to read a quick testimonial. It's really awesome. It's titled, Pure Gold. It's from David Walker in the United Kingdom. I love this. We have people from all over the world listening to our podcast, it's so cool.

Daniel Amen: I just saw someone in the clinic last week from Hong Kong.

Tana Amen: I know, yeah.

Daniel Amen: Another, the week before, somebody from Uzbekistan.

Tana Amen: So cool.

Daniel Amen: It's like, how did you find us? He watched my Ted Talk.

Tana Amen: Super cool, unh?

Daniel Amen: Uzbekistan.

Tana Amen: This is what David Walker says. "Just discovered this podcast. It doesn't just contain golden nuggets of information. Every episode I have listened to is pure gold. Absolutely love it. Doctor Amen and Tana Amen take what's already a fascinating subject and fill it with practical advice, which you can act on immediately to improve the health and function of your brain." Love that.

Daniel Amen: Pure gold.

Tana Amen: Pure gold.

Daniel Amen: All right. Today, we're going to talk about the opiate crisis in America. I was just at the White House and that was a major topic of conversation. Every day, more than 90 million Americans die after overdosing on opiates. Ninety Americans-

Tana Amen: So sad.

Daniel Amen: ... die every day. The misuse and addiction to opiates including prescription pain relievers, heroin, synthetic opiates such as fentanyl, methadone-

Tana Amen: Methadone, which is used to help people get off of heroin.

Daniel Amen: Yeah. It's actually used to keep them addicted, but they're not committing a crime so that their drugs-

Tana Amen: It's a travesty.

Daniel Amen: During 2016, there were 52,000 overdose deaths in the United States. It's actually tracking to almost 60,000 this year, including 33,000 involved opiates. There's an average ... The number of opiate prescriptions dispensed by doctors, steadily increased from 112 million prescriptions in 1992 to 282 million in 2012.

Tana Amen: I'm not without words very often. Whenever we start talking about this subject, I find myself, like my stomach tightens up.

Daniel Amen: Why?

Tana Amen: Because, this is very personal to my family. Besides an uncle who overdosed twice and almost died, and then did prison time for it and my other uncle was murdered because of a drug deal gone wrong. He wasn't even a drug addict, it was because of that uncle who was a heroin addict.

And then, it's with other family members as well, who I don't want to mention because they would not probably want me to. It was just something that was rampant. It's hard and I grew up sort of hating it. You could drop the sort of I guess.

Daniel Amen: Didn't you say that when we were watching once, The Walking Dead-

Tana Amen: That's what it reminded me of. I knew what zombies were before I ever saw movies about zombies, because that's exactly what a heroin addict looks like.

Daniel Amen: Your uncle that was a heroin addict, is actually doing much better.

Tana Amen: Oh, he actually went on, after he went to prison and came out, he ... somehow, there was one great counselor he worked with. One person can turn it around for someone. That's the really cool part. He went on to then become a counselor and did counseling with prisoners.

Daniel Amen: When I was at the White House, I heard about, all the mediations we can use to treat opiate addictions and the drug treatment programs. I was a huge fan of many of the things they talked about. But during the listening session, I raised my hand and I'm like, "There's just not ... we're not talking about prevention. The most important thing we can do is prevent people from getting started."

Tana Amen: I can honestly say, that's the one gift my uncle gave me.

Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: No. I'm not kidding. I've often told him, "You gave me the best gift." Because when all my friends started experimenting and doing cocaine, even messing around with heroin and ... drugs are crazy. This is just a word of wisdom to parents. They start way before you think they do. We've got teenagers, they start way before you think they do in school.

Usually around seventh grade is when it's starting to open up. Usually it's pot and alcohol and then, before you know it, eighth grade, ninth grade, it's full blown. Parents are always like, "What?" I'm like, we're very close to all of our kids. It's just the reality. That's the reality. We just want you to know that.

Daniel Amen: How, from the Amen Clinics, how would we approach this crisis? Heavy emphasis on prevention. We have a high school course that we actually give away for free, Brain Thrive By 25. It's 12 weeks or 12 hours, meaning, you can do it in a weekend. We teach kids ... You can't just go, "Oh, drugs are bad-

Tana Amen: Don't do them.

Daniel Amen: ... don't do them." Because, what's the task of adolescents? It's independence and identity.

Tana Amen: Right. To break free from you.

Daniel Amen: It's to break free from you. If you say no, that means yes.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: You have to turn it on its head and go, your brain controls everything you do. How you think, how you feel, how you act, how you get along with other people. When your brain works right, you work right. When your brain is troubled, you have trouble in your life.

It's your brain that gets you a date, that gets you into college, that gets you freedom and independence, because you act trustworthy. It's your brain. Here are the things that help your brain and here are the things that hurt your brain.

Tana Amen: One of the things that I thought was brilliant on our part, if I must say so myself, was that we actually ... This was on my mind a lot. I know it starts in seventh grade. That's their friends are beginning to influence them more than their parents are. We had Chloe do the course, this new one. We had our teenager do the course.

Daniel Amen: She helped me with it.

Tana Amen: She helped create it. She was forced into hearing all of this information and it was really great for her. She's a good kid anyways, by nature, but it was good for her to hear it and to be a part of it.

Daniel Amen: That was our sneaky agenda-

Tana Amen: A sneaky way, a sneaky agenda. And then I'm, you know, because I'm a nurse and I worked in a trauma unit, there was a lot of the accidents are drug related. I went a little bit further and we've always done the education and you're fantastic with that. I'm a little more scared straight kinda thing.

I would always just tell her, "Sweetie, I love you and I know I can't control you any longer. I know you can go out and do what you're going to do, and it will make me so sad if you make adult decisions that mean you have to pay adult consequences that I can't rescue you from, no matter how much I want to." I'd pull out pictures and I would introduce her to people who had made bad decisions, who's lives were ruined.

Daniel Amen: Giving them acuate information, but in the course, when we go through this stuff to avoid drugs, alcohol, head banging, bad food, not sleeping, invariably and it's always a boy will raise his hand and go, "How can you have any fun?" You actually came to my lecture at the University of Massachusetts, when I spoke-

Tana Amen: It was awesome, oh my gosh.

Daniel Amen: ... to 7,000 children and their parents. These are bright kids because they want to go to medical school.

Tana Amen: Really bright. They're not normal bright, these kids are crazy bright.

Daniel Amen: I did this, things to avoid, and then I say, invariably, a teenage boy will raise his hand and go, "Well, how can you have any fun?" Then we play the game with the kids, who has more fun. The kids with the good brain or the kids with the bad brain.

Tana Amen: This was really funny.

Daniel Amen: Who gets the girl and gets to keep her, because he doesn't act like a jerk.

Tana Amen: The girl behind me screamed out, she yells, "Preach it, brother." The girls were ... it was a really fun crowd. What was really fun for me is exposing your kids to that kind of environment is really cool too because Chloe looked at me, she's like, "Who are these kids?" Like, "I've never seen kids who are this kind of achiever." She's like, "Is there anything these kids can't do?" I'm like, "Sweetie, these kids, it's not that they were all born genius's. They work hard. Yes, they're smart, but they work really hard. They're focused. They know what they want."

Daniel Amen: Then I asked them, "So, who gets into the college they want to get into?" The kid with the good brain or the kid with the bad brain? Who gets the best jobs? Makes the most money? Takes the coolest vacations? And then, I actually had permission from my friend Miley Cyrus. Miley's made some decisions that really made me unhappy.

Tana Amen: They were entertaining.

Daniel Amen: They made me unhappy. Right before, while I was preparing the lecture, I texted her the same question, "Are you having more ...," well, let me back up a little bit. In December, Amen Clinics published the world's largest study on marijuana users. Over 1,000 marijuana users, we compared their brains to healthy brains, non-marijuana using brains. We found every area of their brain was lower in blood flow.

I texted her the study and she texted me back, she said, "No way." I texted her back, "Way." She stopped. Now, it's five months later, where she's not smoked pot or done anything else, and so I'm getting ready for the lecture and I text her, are you having more fun with your good habits or the bad ones?"

She texted me right back, she goes, "Ha, good by a billion." Which, you know, I was so happy for her. I got to share that story with the kids and they all roared approval. You have to educate, prevention is the most important thing you can do. If you get stuck in the rabbit hole of addiction, there is help. I'm not a fan of heroin. I mean, I understand the reasons why-

Tana Amen: I'm so glad to hear that.

Daniel Amen: ... but I'm also not a fan of methadone.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Because it just can perpetuates the addiction. I am a fan of acupuncture because acupuncture works by increasing endorphins in your brain and-

Tana Amen: So interesting.

Daniel Amen: ... opiates work on the endorphin system and they make you feel good, but you have to be really careful with anything that works on that system because the more you push on it, the number it gets and then it causes you to need more and more to get the same result.

Three ways I talked about this, that people change, they have an epiphany. We produce a drug education poster called, Which Brain Do You Want? Healthy brain surrounded by drug affected brains and the whole point of that brain, the poster, is an epiphany. It increases a discussion.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: The second thing is, you have to change your friends. If you hang out with drug addicts, you're going to be a drug addict. You saw that with your uncle, right? Somebody else we helped over this last year, you got to change your friends. The more you're around people who do the right things, the more likely you are to do the right things. There are so many natural ways to deal with pain. Hypnosis, meditation-

Tana Amen: I love meditation.

Daniel Amen: ... Omega 3 fatty acids. In our NFL study that we did here, there are a lot of people on chronic pain medications. I remember one of my patients, my first evaluation, he rolled off the couch. I mean, he was just spaced out. Getting him well ultimately meant, getting him off the opiates.

Tana Amen: Well, and people don't ... we underestimate the power of food and things like alcohol, where pain is concerned. A lot of people do drink and do do drugs because of their pain, but they're eating really poorly and what you don't realize is, it's a vicious circle. When you drink alcohol, especially in excess, if you're just having a glass of wine, not so much, like, once in a while.

When people drink every day or they're eating inflammation causing foods, inflammation increases pain. If you're eating bad food, I know myself, like when we go on vacation, we travel, if I eat certain foods and I don't know what's in the food like I normally do, and I'm not controlling it the same way, and I'm dehydrated, I have pain. I have pain from old karate injuries, things like that.

Daniel Amen: When we did the Brain Warrior's Way class, you can sign-up for the Brain Warrior's Way class, it's Tanna and I for 26 hours. Took us six months to create. Of the 20,000 people who signed-up for our class-

Tana Amen: Pain was huge.

Daniel Amen: ... decreases in pain, just by getting on the right diet was really important.

Tana Amen: Right. It's not magic. It's a decrease in inflammation. It's that simple.

Daniel Amen: You are so smart.

Tana Amen: I know. Thank you. I married you, I must be.

Daniel Amen: Such a critical issue. Starts with prevention. And then epiphany, change your friends, and then, diet can be hugely important. You know what happens? One beef and then we'll wrap this up. Is, they go to drug treatment programs-

Tana Amen: They feed them garbage.

Daniel Amen: Unbelievable.

Tana Amen: I know. I worked [inaudible 00:15:00], remember?

Daniel Amen: [inaudible 00:15:00].

Tana Amen: Part of it-

Daniel Amen: We're going to talk about that coming up.

Tana Amen: Part of it is because the leaders are all addicted to garbage food.

Daniel Amen: Right. The brain hates change. I remember my first AA meetings, when I went as a student, when I was a psychiatry resident and learned how to treat addictions, they were all smoking, drinking coffee with cream and sugar, lots of sugar, and eating donuts. I'm thinking to myself, no one's getting well.

Tana Amen: Right.

Daniel Amen: Right? I mean, you're not drinking anymore, but you're clearly not getting a healthy brain. Diet is critical and often a significant missing piece. Stay with us. You can beat this.

Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of the Brain Warrior's Way and the Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook, we give away every month.