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Dose of Reality: Start Talking About Opioids

You can be the one to keep the people you care about safe. It starts with real talks. It is easy to think that people won't listen. But they do. Real talks about opioid use with the people in your life is an opportunity to provide real help. Don't worry, it is easier than you think. Let's us show you how to prevent opioid harm with real talks.

Conversation between two people in restaurant

What are real talks?

Real talks are open and honest conversations on opioids and their harms with your family, friends, coworkers, and other people. They can happen anytime, anywhere. Real talks recognize that our environments and experiences shape our lives. Different people and populations in our state face challenges based on the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, and work. Understanding the impacts of these challenges on a person's overall health and wellness and meeting the person where they are at in their journey are important to having meaningful real talks.

Visit for more information on how real talks are changing the conversation on substance use prevention and reduction in Wisconsin.

What to do

  • Keep it casual. All you need to do is take a moment to think about what you want to share with the person before diving in.
  • Identify an appropriate time and place. Consider a private setting with limited distractions where you and the person will feel comfortable, such as at home or on a walk.
  • Listen to what is said. Show the person that you're interested in what they have to say. Give them your undivided attention. Listen both to what they are saying and also to what they are not saying. Acknowledge their feelings. Try to understand their perspective.
  • Offer support, not judgment. Take a pause before responding to what is said to think how you can react with compassion. Instead of reacting, think of a question you can ask them: about their experience, their feelings, or their support network. Remind the person that you'll always be there for them and why you are glad they are in your life.
  • Stay connected. Helping a person doesn't happen overnight. Continue reaching out with offers to listen. Invite them to activities. Encourage them to talk to a health care professional, spiritual advisor, or other friend or relative if they don't want to talk with you.

What to say

There are many ways to start a real talk. Focus on your concern for the person. Here are some examples of what you can say:

  • “I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?”
  • “I see you’re going through something. How can I best support you?”
  • “I care about you and am here to listen. Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?”
  • “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed like yourself lately. How can I help?”
  • "How is everything going in your personal life? I haven't heard you talk much about your friends lately."
  • "I haven't heard you talk much about the hobbies you enjoy. Have you done anything fun lately?"

During a real talk, when responding to answers, remember that simple, encouraging feedback goes a long way in showing support. Here are some examples of what you can say:

  • "You're not alone, even if you feel like you are. I'm here for you, and I want to help you in any way I can."
  • "It may not seem possible right now, but the pain you are experiencing can get better without opioids."
  • "I might not be able to understand exactly what you're going through or how you feel, but I care about you and want to help."

Your words matter

Words have impact. By changing the words you use, you can help break down negative stereotypes one conversation at a time.

  • Say use (illegal drugs)/misuse (medications used other than prescribed) instead of abuse.
  • Say opioid use disorder instead of habit.
  • Say person with an opioid use disorder instead of addict, user, or junkie.
  • Say person in recovery instead of former addict.
  • Say person who previously used opioids instead of reformed addict.
  • Say in remission or recovery instead of clean.

Talking about naloxone

If you have concerns about a loved one taking a prescription opioid or drugs commonly mixed with fentanyl, like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, talk to them about naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug.

Talking with children

If you are a parent, caregiver, or role model—small talks make a big difference. Small talks are open and honest conversation that parents, caregivers, and role models have with children on the dangers of drugs. Parents, caregivers, and role models have a big influence on the actions of the young people in their lives. Many casual, short conversations as early as age 8 can lead to a lifetime of healthy choices because they are less intimidating than one serious discussion.

Taking the next step

Having real talks is important, but it is not the only thing that you can do. If you or someone in your life is experiencing a problem with opioids, help is available.

Learn about treatment programs and recovery support services

Last revised January 5, 2024