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Painkillers Number 1 Cause of Accidental Death; Interview with Bill Clinton; Interview with Shaquille O'Neal

Aired November 17, 2012 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hey there. And thanks for being with us today.

Shaquille O'Neal is coming by. He's going to talk about his family, also going to talk about diabetes. He's a very funny guy. He's also the biggest guy I've ever met. But, you know, he the same health challenges that a lot of us do.

Also, I'm going to talk with President Clinton who lost a friend to an accidental overdose of prescription pain pills. In fact, that's where I want to start today. It's something that has bothered me quite a bit and also an area where I think we can all make a difference -- accidental deaths from prescription drug overdose.

When you hear the term of drug overdose, what do you think? Maybe you think of cocaine, heroin or meth. But what if I told you that more people die from taking perfectly legal prescription drugs than all those other things combined.

Many who die from prescription pain killers are not addicts. They are healthy, just like you probably or me. But for me, a story that really drove it home involved a young man named Benjamin.


S. GUPTA (voice-over): On December 19th, 2011, Benjamin Gupta, a law and MBA student at George Washington University died suddenly, mysteriously. He is no relationship to me, but when his family got word, they spent hours trading phone calls. They were in stunned disbelief.

ALEX GUPTA, BENJAMIN GUPTA'S BROTHER: I received a call from my mom, I didn't answer. But then I got a text message from her which was very unusual.

VINOD GUPTA, BENJAMIN GUPTA'S FATHER: And I said what happened. She said it is Ben. He died. I just -- I didn't have any information.

A. GUPTA: I finally said, how did this happen? And she said he went to sleep the night before, and he just never woke up.

V. GUPTA: He was always smiling, you know, in every picture.

S. GUPTA: For days, Ben Gupta's family was desperate for answers, what killed him? He was only 28 years old. He had recently been given a clean bill of health. How could he just not wake up?

V. GUPTA: And then the thought went through my mind that maybe it was a sort of brain aneurism, or something must have happened.

S. GUPTA: But his father was in for a shock after a conversation with the doctor who performed Ben's autopsy.

V. GUPTA: And he called me and said, yes, you know, they found Oxycodone in his system.

S. GUPTA (on camera): He tells you he believes that your son died of an overdose of narcotics?

V. GUPTA: Yes, right.

S. GUPTA: What do you think at that time?

V. GUPTA: I was just shocked at that time.

S. GUPTA: Did you think it was possible, what you knew of your son?

V. GUPTA: No, no.

STUART BRIDGE, BENJAMIN GUPTA'S FRIEND: He worked for the state department and would graduate in a year with a dual law and MBA degree, you know the type of person where it just doesn't run through your head that he is having a problem because he does so well.

S. GUPTA (voice-over): Stuart Bridge was a close friend of Ben's. They met in grammar school. He recalled a conversation that would later prove to be very important.

BRIDGE: He had met somebody new, and really liked this new girl that he was dating.

S. GUPTA: And Ben told Stuart that he and his new girlfriend had tried Oxycodone, and they thought it was no big deal.

BRIDGE: You know, I'm not doing it regularly. It's not something I'm seeking out but it's something that I've tried.

S. GUPTA: Now, anybody else may just shrug off that conversation, but Bridge wasn't just a friend. He is also a doctor, and he warned Ben about taking the Oxycodone and about mixing it with alcohol.

BRIDGE: I have seen people who died who are on these medications or who, you know, experimented with these medications.

S. GUPTA: From just experimenting, the reason the line between experimentation and death it turns out is tenuous. Oxycodone and other pain killers like it are what's called central nervous system or CNS depressants. They slow down the body's vital functions, breathing, heart rate, blood pressure.

That's not usually a problem when the pills are prescribed for you. But when you add them to other CNS depressants like alcohol or other prescription drugs, the effect is multiplied. The nervous systems slows and slows until breathing, hearth heart, brain function, all grind to a halt.

Ben's deadly dose, according to his girlfriend, was drinking beer and scotch throughout the day, along with an unknown quantity of the Oxycodone. When his blood level was tested it registered 4.0. That's relatively low, less than half the legal limit.

Here is the implication: it may not take much alcohol to tip the balance toward towards death.

Ben fell asleep in front of the TV, and by the next morning, he had stopped breathing.

(on camera): It's still hard to talk about?

V. GUPTA: Oh, it is. It is.

S. GUPTA: Do you think it ever won't be?

V. GUPTA: No, I think about him all the time. Like I'm in D.C. today, so I went walking on the G.W. campus, looking for him.


GUPTA: It is still so hard to hear. I met Ben's family through former President Bill Clinton. And I'll tell you, he's on a new crusade. And you're going to hear what he has to say about this.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: He was industrious but he was normal and liked to have a good time. He had -- I promise you -- that night, he had no idea that he was turning out the lights -- none. And if it's true of him, it's got to be true of a lot of other people.



GUPTA: You know, a year ago I got a phone call I don't think I'm ever going to forget. It was former President Bill Clinton who called to say a close friend's son had just died from an overdose of Oxycodone, a pain killer.

Now, this man that he's talking about wasn't an addict, perhaps just a little reckless. He mixed his Oxycodone with a few beers, in fact. The autopsy would ultimately show that he wasn't legally drunk, didn't have that much to drink. But the combination was enough to kill him.

And when he called me, the former president, seemed to be almost in shock. He was asking for help, he asked me to do something.


GUPTA: When you called me and you told me about Ben Gupta, I could tell in your voice, that -- I mean, you were pretty broken up. I mean, you know him well.

What kind of kid was he?

CLINTON: A light shined out of him. That's all I could tell you. He grew up. He was big, strong, handsome, smart, and wanted to make something of his life.

He was industrious, but he was normal, liked to have a good time. He had -- I promise you -- that night, he had no idea that he was turning out the lights, none. And if it's true of him, it's got to be true of a lot of other people.

GUPTA: When you called me, I still remember this. I wrote this down. You said -- you put it like this. You said nobody thinks drinking a few beers and having Oxycodone is a good idea. But you also don't expect to die.

Ben is a smart kid. You're -- a lot of these people are smart folks. Do you think he had any idea of the dangers at all?

CLINTON: No, I don't think he had any idea what biochemistry of his brain was, and that, in your words, it would kill that part of his brain for a while that tells you to keep on breathing when you're asleep. There is no way in the wild world that he would have done that had he known it. Nor do I believe the young woman who was with him had a clue.

And he was a really smart, educated guy. All of us, the whole culture, we need to start thinking about this. This is crazy. Not a single, solitary, one of these person has to die.

GUPTA: Do you think other doctors such as myself, other doctors, should be say, look, I mean, this is no joke. If you take this with alcohol, you could die?


GUPTA: Does it need to be that dramatic?

CLINTON: I think so. If people see this on the warning labels, on the bottle, and they think -- I work, I'm strong, I'm fine. They have no idea what the biochemistry is, and the interaction of alcohol, Oxycodone or whatever it is, and the brain. They just don't know.

So I think that this should be explained in more common, explicit language than those warnings to have, the labels do, and I would like somebody to look me in the eye and say, you cannot do this, this, or this. If I were you, I wouldn't have a glass of wine with this. You can't control what happens to you when you fall asleep.

GUPTA: This may be a statistic that you know, I was surprised by it -- but 80 percent of the world's pain prescriptions are in this country, 80 percent. Does that surprise you?

CLINTON: I didn't know that. No, because --

GUPTA: Is that a cultural problem?

CLINTON: Yes, it is cultural. You know, people think, oh, I got a headache or I got this, my elbow is sore, or whatever.

And, look, I don't want to minimize, there are a lot of people who live courageous lives in constant pain. They're in pain all the time, for reasons they can't control. They need relief and they should get it.

But there's no question, since we represent 5 percent of the world's people, and far less than 80 percent of the world's people with above- average incomes, we got no business popping as many pills as we do.


GUPTA: The Clinton Foundation has now announced a five-year plan to address this situation, with a lot of education to try and prevent these overdose deaths. And Vinod Gupta, who you just met there, Benjamin's father, he's pledged a million to help support this.

Coming up, just in time for Thanksgiving, some can't miss advice on how to avoid food poisoning.


GUPTA: You know for many people, and I include myself in this category, leftovers are the best part about Thanksgiving. But also, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, next to summertime, the holidays are the busiest time of the year for them. They field a lot of questions about food poisoning and safety.

So I want to give you a simple tip to help you keep from making one of those calls next week. Just remember this, the 2-2-4 rule. Refrigerate your leftovers within 2 hours of cooking. Store your food in shallow dishes, about 2 inches to cool your food more quickly. And eat those refrigerated within four days or toss them out.

Now, since he was 17 years old, Rich Clifford wanted to travel to space. After graduating from West Point, Clifford's dreams came true. But after two missions, he was diagnosed with a debilitating, degenerative brain disease.

But he refused to let that stop him from flying again.


GUPTA (voice-over): For most of us, this view is the closest we'll ever get to outer space. But it's also the view that Astronaut Rich Clifford has had three times, when he blasted into space aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1992, on Endeavour in 1994, and Atlantis in 1996.

As he flew his last shuttle mission on his way to the Mir space station, Clifford was carrying a secret. He had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

RICH CLIFFORD, ASTRONAUT: I didn't really have any symptoms of it other than my right arm didn't swing naturally when I walked.

GUPTA: He just had his annual physical, been given a clean bill of health. But when he told his doctor that his arm was affecting his rocket ball game, he was immediately sent to a neurologist.

CLIFFORD: He looked at me for five minutes and said you got Parkinson's disease.

GUPTA: His bosses at NASA asked him what he wanted to do.

CLIFFORD: I said I wanted to fly again.

GUPTA: NASA doctors eventually cleared him. And nine months later, Clifford was heading back into space aboard Atlantis.

CLIFFORD: With the crew, just walked with my left arm swinging, the right arm is hanging there. The symptoms didn't go away, but I didn't -- it didn't interfere with my job.

GUPTA: Only the shuttle commander knew.

CLIFFORD: I was certified to fly and that was good enough for them.

GUPTA: And with that flight came a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity -- a six- hour spacewalk.

CLIFFORD: It was fantastic. Definitely fantastic. Doing a spacewalk is a privilege and something every astronaut searches for.

GUPTA: For years the stiffness in his arm was the only symptom then three years ago, the trembling began, followed by head bobbing. His neurologist tried to convince Clifford to go public with the story many times. And last year, 17 years after being diagnosed, he finally did.

CLIFFORD: I got diagnosed with Parkinson's when I was 42 years old.

GUPTA: Now, he travels around the country, raising awareness of the disease. And he says it helps to talk about it.

CLIFFORD: I encourage people to not let (INAUDIBLE) down and live life to the fullest and they got to keep focused on what it is that you want to do in life and proceed down on that path. Nothing should hold you back.


GUPTA: And Clifford is on a new mission. He wants to raise understanding and awareness of Parkinson's disease. The story is being told in a new documentary that's currently in production called "The Astronaut Secret".

And also, you probably recognize this guy. He's a little hard to miss, NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal. He joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: And helping us chase life today is NBA legend, he really needs no introduction, Shaquille O'Neal. He's here to talk about solutions to one of the biggest killer in America. It's diabetes.

We talk about this a lot. It's a growing problem. One in three people -- I don't know if you knew this, Shaquille -- one in three people by the year 2050 expected to have diabetes in this one country, a third of all Americans.

What do you think when you hear that?

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, NBA ON TNT ANALYST: It's alarming. You know, I think we as American people need to try to help the issue. You know, try to stay healthy. There are a lot of healthy alternatives rather than just eating candy all the time.

GUPTA: How is your health? I mean, obviously, as a professional athlete, you're exercising a lot. Every now and then, would take some flack during the season for not being able to control your weight as well. How is it going for you now?

O'NEAL: It's going pretty good. You know, I've always been known as a freak of nature. I was the first guy when you hear you know, guys 350, of course, you know, regular people when you hear 350, you obviously think obese, or super obese.

GUPTA: Right.

O'NEAL: But, you know, as you can tell by my playing career, I'm fifth in scoring and won a lot of championships. So, you know, bad that I was first of kind, they would automatic go, oh, he is out of shape. And I admit, you know, sometimes, I wouldn't come in basketball shape. It was my method of madness, I wanted to just relax during the summer, hang out with the family, and work my way into play and shape.

I've never been obese. Even now, my body fat is only 13 percent.

GUPTA: So how big are you? You're 7'1" --

O'NEAL: I'm 7'1", you know --

GUPTA: How much do you weigh?

O'NEAL: About 350 plus 10 --


GUPTA: Give and take a little bit?

O'NEAL: Yes, give and take a little bit, yes.

GUPTA: I don't know if you can tell at home, but we're actually similar size. You can't tell we're sitting.

Obesity is something that leads to type 2 diabetes. We talk about the diabetes statistics, but two thirds of adult in this country are either overweight or obese. We didn't always be this way in this country. Why do you think culturally, we've arrived at this place? And why did it become OK?

O'NEAL: I think, now, especially when it comes to dealing with children, there are more temptations to make you stay at home. When I was coming up, there was no iPhone, there was no Twitter, there was no social media network. It was come home, go outside and play, AKA, burn calories, stay in shape.

GUPTA: Right.

O'NEAL: Come back in the house.

But now, you know, because of what's going on in our society, I went to this place, where five kids, five obese kids and try to work them back in shape. And one parent said, we live in a dangerous neighborhood. I would never let my kid go outside to exercise. One parent said that, you know, I blame it on schools because schools are cutting the P.E. programs.

So, you know, it's a different world we live in. So, I mean, I always urge parents to, you know, if you can, try to eat healthy, try to help your kids to get exercise and try to keep them in shape.

GUPTA: How personal is this for you? I mean, you talk about this with your own family and friends?

O'NEAL: It is very personal for me because, you know, I see the struggle that they go through -- take the pills, you know, have to do certain things to keep up with it. So again, if I can help, help in any way, you know, I want to be there for that person who said Shaquille said do this, glucose, quick stick, (INAUDIBLE) eating candy -- hey, I'm in, help with the diabetes, I'll do it.

GUPTA: Your family members who you're concerned about, do they listen to you?

O'NEAL: They listen to me. You know, Eisenhower said, you know, the greatest leaders are the ones smart enough to hire people smarter than them.

So, of course, you know, when they tell me they have diabetes, I get on the phone, I called people like you. I have conversation with them, intelligent conversations, they tell it to me. I tell it to them.

So, you know, it's not me making it up. Like dad, I talked to this guy, it's what he said, or uncle, I talk to this guy or sister, I talked to this guy, and this is what he said.

GUPTA: Your own health, you said you're doing pretty well. You look fit. I mean, I imagine it would be hard to keep the weight off, especially when you're not playing sports, but just your regular day to day diet. How much are you eating or how well are you monitoring yourself? O'NEAL: You know, I have never eaten a lot. I have cut down the bread. I can't stop eating my brownies. I'm not going to lie to you, America.


O'NEAL: No, I cut down on the bread. So in the morning I wake up, I have an omelet. And then for lunch, I have a salad. And, for dinner, I have steak or fish. I try to stay away from the sodas and try to stay away from the candies. But I try to at least get an hour on the treadmill everyday.

GUPTA: Do you ever done triathlon?

O'NEAL: No, never will.

GUPTA: Why not?

O'NEAL: Because I'm a great athlete. But I'm not that great an athlete.


O'NEAL: Those athletes -- you know, they don't get a lot of credit, but they are super exceptional athletes.

GUPTA: You know, we have a program where we actually recruit viewers from around the country to join us to do a triathlon. I've been doing this for a few years now, trying to practice what we preach. You don't have to be an NBA superstar to do a triathlon or to value fitness.

Last year, we picked a group of people. Take a look there, Shaq. These are people who had never done a triathlon before.

O'NEAL: Your viewers (ph).

GUPTA: Everyday viewers, just like people watching at home, who simply wanted to make a change in their lives. So what we did, we hooked them up with bikes, with wet suits, trainers, training trips, as well all over the country. And just a few weeks ago, you got to see them cross the finish line -- every single one of them, Shaq -- at the Nautica Malibu Triathlon.

O'NEAL: Nice.

GUPTA: So people at home, if you're up for a challenge, you can go to our Web site right now,, send in your video. We'll watch it. Maybe you can be a part of next year's challenge.

O'NEAL: That's too long for me.

GUPTA: That's what I thought, too.

Maybe we'll get Shaq back here. Thanks so much.

O'NEAL: Thank you. No problem. Thank you.

GUPTA: Appreciate it.

That's going to wrap things up for us here at SGMD. But stay connected at Let's keep the conversation going on Twitter @SanjayGuptaCNN.

Time now, though, to get you a check of your top stories making news right now.