Celeb: Mehmet Oz, the camera-ready surgeon known on the small screen as “Dr. Oz.” Oprah Winfrey’s former health expert, Oz has hosted ABC’s “The Dr. Oz Show” since 2009.
Cause: Drug addiction, specifically the sharp uptick in the abuse of opioids, or prescription painkillers. According to the Coalition to Stop Opioid Overdose, more than 10 million Americans report misusing the pain medication given to them by their doctors, and since 2000 the rate of opioid-related deaths from overdose has quadrupled.
Scene: On Wednesday, Oz, who’s spent more than a dozen hours of his show on addiction, moderated a panel discussion on the opioid epidemic less than a week after President Obama himself highlighted the issue by appearing in his weekly public address alongside rapper Macklemore, a recovering addict.
Dressed in a sleek suit and armed with soundbites, Oz left a meeting room in the Capitol Visitor Center and encountered the glare of TV cameras and a gaggle of high school students shouting his name. The real-life doctor (he doesn’t just play one on TV) was headed to a list of congressional offices to help make addiction a personal issue to the politicians in charge of policy. Too often seen as a moral failing as opposed to a medical problem, Oz’s strategy was to tell addiction stories starring “your bosses, your co-workers, people whose kids go to school with yours.”
“We don’t change based on what we know,” Oz explained. “We change based on how we feel.” The legislative goal, he said, was to get more funding for recovery services, better access to those services and better professional training for doctors who prescribe powerful painkillers.
In May, the House passed a package of bills aimed at combating the painkiller epidemic, but President Obama is asking for an additional $1.1 billion in new funding.
Sound bite: “Opiate addiction used to be someone else’s problem. They weren’t like you. They were someone else’s kids. They were [on] the other side of tracks from you. Now it’s in upper- and middle-class neighborhoods — that’s when it began resonating.”