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Mark Wahlberg shares passion for curbing opioid abuse

September 07, 2019

By Kimber Solana

Photo of Mr. Wahlberg speaking
Keynote: Actor Mark Wahlberg discusses his Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation Thursday during the Opening Ceremony and General Session. Photos by EZ Event Photography
Oscar-nominated actor and producer Mark Wahlberg has suffered the loss of friends from the opioid crisis.

"I've known people who you'd never think would ever be interested in any kind of drug use but had an accident or surgery and suddenly become addicted," he told the crowd Thursday during the Opening Ceremony and General Session of the ADA FDI World Congress.

"Nobody is immune to it. So anything that we can to do to raise awareness will hopefully create a solution," he said.

Photo of Drs. Kell and Cole
Together: From left, FDI President Kathryn Kell and ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole welcome dentists and their guests during the ADA FDI World Dental Congress Opening Ceremony and General Session.
While best known for his film career, Mr. Wahlberg started the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation in 2001 to benefit inner-city children and teens. The foundation was established to raise and distribute funds to youth service and enrichment programs. The foundation also travels across the U.S. to spread awareness about the dangers of opioid abuse.

On Thursday, Mr. Wahlberg — on stage with ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole and outgoing FDI President Kathryn Kell — shared why he started the youth foundation, and how his upbringing in Boston and his hard-earned fame has shaped and influenced the causes he champions.

"Every town, every city, every state across the country, we're losing people at a rapid rate," Mr. Wahlberg said. "It's a terrible epidemic."

His foundation's work in addressing the crisis, which includes the creation of the National Youth Summits on Opioid Awareness events targeting middle and high school students, made Mr. Wahlberg a fitting guest at the ADA FDI World Dental Congress.

Photo of Dr. Gehani presenting award to Dr. Craft
Honor: ADA President-elect Chad P. Gehani, left, gives Dr. Charles F. Craft the ADA Humanitarian Award for his volunteer world around the globe, especially in Vietnam.
The foundation's efforts align with the ADA's efforts in working with legislators, government agencies and other stakeholders to keep prescription opioid pain medications from becoming a source of harm. The Association adopted a 2018 policy that called for mandating continuing education and initial prescribing limits for opioids for dentists — becoming the first major health professional organization to do so.

The ADA policy also supports limiting the dose and duration of initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain and the use of state prescription drug monitoring programs. This was built on a 2016 ADA policy on the use of opioids, stating that dentists should consider nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory analgesics, or NSAIDS, as the first-line therapy for acute pain management.

"I just wanted to focus on the thing that was close to me, that affected me personally," said Mr. Wahlberg on why his foundation centers around youth and their wellbeing. "I couldn't ignore what was happening in my own backyard. There are a lot of kids out there not getting a fair shake."

Photo of Dr. Cole presenting award to Rep. Simpson
Service: U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, left, receives the Distinguished Service Award from ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole. Dr. Simpson was recognized for his work in Congress to improve oral health programs.
Mr. Wahlberg's address capped off Thursday's ADA FDI World Dental Congress Opening Ceremony and General Session, which was sponsored by Laurel Road. Prior to his keynote, the general session included a flag ceremony, celebrating the 135 countries present at this year's joint meeting.

Symbolizing a passing of the torch, the ceremony included a traditional medallion handoff from outgoing Dr. Kell to the incoming FDI president, Dr. Gerhard Seeberger, a native of Germany now living in Italy.

Dr. Cole also presented Dr. Mike Simpson, who serves in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Idaho's 2nd Congressional District, the Distinguished Service Award. The award recognized Rep. Simpson's efforts in Congress to improve oral health programs that benefit patients across the country, including leading efforts in Congress to help pass the Action for Dental Health Act.

Photo of Dr. Kell presenting medal to Dr. Seeberger
New president: Outgoing FDI President Kathryn Kell, right, hands off the medal to Dr. Gerhard Seeberger, incoming FDI president — symbolizing a passing of the torch. Dr. Seeberger, a native of Germany who now lives in Italy, will assume the role of FDI president this year.
In addition, ADA President-elect Chad P. Gehani honored Dr. Charles F. Craft with the ADA Humanitarian Award for his volunteer work around the globe. Dr. Craft founded the East Meets West Dental Program in Vietnam in 1996, treating more than 160,000 patients and providing more than $30 million of free dental care.

Mr. Wahlberg, who came from a family of nine children, spent a lot of time in his youth in his local Boys and Girls Club of America. He credited his positive experience at the club for his success as an adult, which influenced his decision to create a foundation that specifically helps young people achieve their goals.

Despite the serious subject of addressing the opioid epidemic, there were plenty of moments of levity during Mr. Wahlberg's conversation with Drs. Cole and Kell.
Mr. Wahlberg revealed he has a dental specific nickname.

Group photo of Canadian dentists
Pride: Dentists from Canada were among the loudest during Thursday's flag ceremony at the Opening Ceremony and General Session.
"People literally call me the Tooth Fairy," he said, due to his generosity in paying for others to resolve their dental issues.

Growing up poor, Mr. Wahlberg said there weren't many trips to the dentist in his youth. Today, that has changed.

"I'm a real big teeth guy. I have my bag with my toothbrush and floss backstage," he said, receiving a loud applause from the crowd.

"I actually have a teeth cleaning on Monday," he added.