Waiting for the Autopsy Results: How Prince's Passing Could Be Used to Change Lives

04/27/2016 01:54 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2017

Prince's death a few days ago hit me hard. He was relatively young, vegan, healthy -- not a person we'd think would be found dead one morning. In a blink, he was gone. We have no idea really how he died. There are medical issues that can take a person in an instant; those deaths are heartbreaking, but understandable. We can wrap our minds around a brain aneurism or similar sudden occurrence. But in this case, there are whispers, speculation that Prince may have died of an overdose (his lawyer denied these claims). We of course will not know what happened until autopsy results are released, but if Price did die of an overdose, our hearts should be doubly heavy - because overdose deaths are preventable.

Aerosmith front-man, Steven Tyler, shared a poignant perspective in a piece in People. He said, "I hope it's not drugs. But if it is, this did not have to happen." That was my immediate reaction too when speculation first surfaced that Prince's death could have been caused by an overdose. "...this did not have to happen."

What I hope is that in the days until the autopsy results are released, and perhaps beyond depending on what those results tell us, we can use Prince's incredible life and sudden passing to have a real and meaningful national conversation about drug use, particularly prescription drug abuse.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 25,000 people in the USA died as a result of prescription drug overdose in 2014. That's 25,000 families waiting for autopsy results just like the nation, and much of the world, is waiting to hear about Prince. We have to take proactive steps to change this heartbreak and drastically decrease the number of overdose deaths each year. Here's what you can do:

1. Open lines of communication. If you suspect someone in your life is misusing prescription medication, talk to them about it. Don't lose someone you love because you think you might embarrass or upset them.

2. Keep naloxone on hand. There is a drug that counteracts opioid overdose, often long enough to get a person to emergency medical treatment. It is called naloxone and it should be on hand in the home of every person who has a prescription for opioids and is taking them for more than a week.

3. Use alternatives for pain relief. While opioid medications may be appropriate for very short term use, there are a number of non-narcotic pain relievers and activities (meditation, yoga, acupuncture, etc.) that have been shown to be effective at managing pain. Use those instead of opioids whenever possible.

4. Seek help. Opioid medications are highly addictive and are often abused by people who have as much or more psychological pain as physical pain. One of the most critical aspects of addiction recovery is getting at the issues underlying substance abuse, and that most often happens in psychotherapy.

5. Hold your head up. Shame and embarrassment keep far too many from getting help. Millions in America suffer from various substance abuse issues. Don't keep your pain or your problem to yourself. Anyone can recover, but you have to see through the shame long enough to ask for help.