Jon Orens visited our class on Thursday to share his personal story of losing his son Daniel to addiction. Since his son passed away at the end of 2016, Orens has started the Daniel J. Orens Foundation to help others battling addiction. He said his goal is to de-stigmatize addiction and help others who have lost loved ones to the disease.

Orens shared he never thought he’d one day lose a child to addiction. He now encourages young parents to refrain from even drinking socially in front of their kids because you just don’t know how your child is genetically wired. Orens thinks we need to start talking to kids about drugs and addiction at an earlier point. These conversations would be more helpful in elementary or middle school. By high school, kids have already made up their minds about drug use or already developed a problem.

We discussed how people start using drugs or alcohol because of pain management. In the U.S. our worldview is based on pleasure and pain. People will even speak negatively of a doctor if they’re not given a prescription to get rid of their pain. Social experimentation and partying too much can also bring out addictions, as well as stress. Mental health issues exacerbate all of these problems. “When we’re kids we want to be grown-ups but when we’re grown-ups we want to be kids,” Orens said.

Orens hopes that one day there won’t be any stigma around taking kids to regular psychiatric check-ups, just like we do with pediatrician visits. 100 years ago people were shamed for having their cancers return, but that would never happen today.  Early psychiatric visits could help identify problems that are pre-cursors to addiction well before an addiction has developed.

Orens stressed that the mind, body and spirit can team up to beat addiction, but it’s tough. People in recovery can be even more susceptible to dying from drug use than active users because their systems aren’t calibrated to the drugs. Our class also explored how changing the vernacular around addiction is the first step to de-stigmatization.