HUDSON, Ohio — Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities throughout the country and in Ohio.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office said the state’s death rate from opioid overdoses in the second quarter of 2020 was the highest in 10 years.
Now, Greg McNeil, a Summit County father who lost his son to an opioid overdose, is hoping a new bill called Non-opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation (NOPAIN) Act can help families better cope with addiction before it's too late.
It's been six years since McNeil, of Hudson, lost his youngest son, Sam.
“He had the best sense of humor. He was generous, and he was fun-loving,” McNeil said.
His son was also selfless. Back in 2007, McNeil says Sam was at a party and was beat up badly while defending a young woman.
He wound up in the E.R., had screws put in his face, and underwent some plastic surgery.
“And they sent him on his way with some opioids,” McNeil said. “It just took him weeks to get addicted to that.”
Soon, his son became hooked on heroin.
McNeil said they sent him to two rehab facilities over the years, one in Ohio and another in Florida. They helped, but his son eventually relapsed.
In October 2015, his son overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl.
“He didn't stand a chance. They found him the next day alone. Gone,” McNeil said. “And obviously that changed our lives forever.”
After his death, McNeil started a non-profit called Cover2 Resources, which works to highlight people and programs making a difference in the opioid epidemic. That’s why he’s now backing the NOPAIN Act.
The bill, co-authored by several U.S. senators, including Ohio Senator Rob Portman, aims to increase access for doctors and patients enrolled in Medicare to non-opioid forms of pain management.
Under current law, hospitals receive the same payment from Medicare regardless of whether a physician prescribes an opioid or a non-opioid. As a result, hospitals rely on opioids, which are typically dispensed by a pharmacy after discharge at little or no cost to the hospital.
The Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation (NOPAIN) Act would change this policy by directing CMS to provide separate Medicare reimbursement for non-opioid treatments used to manage pain in both the hospital outpatient department (HOPD) and the ambulatory surgery center (ASC) settings.
“The problem is, the doctors have a financial disincentive to offer alternatives to opioids, but there are many out there,” McNeil said. “Be it acupuncture, be it nerve blocks -- there's many things out there that are alternatives to opioids.”
McNeil believes right now is a critical time for the bill to be introduced and passed with opioid deaths on the rise.
In addition to the Ohio Attorney General’s warning, health officials in Stark, Summit, and Cuyahoga counties have reported spikes in overdose deaths.
“That population that's struggling with opioid use disorder has been very much impacted by laying a pandemic on top of an epidemic that way,” McNeil said.
He’s hoping the legislation will make a difference for families struggling with addiction so they don’t have to endure the pain his family has.
“I think it's time for us to put families in the driver's seat and give them the opportunity to make the decisions for themselves, but we have to start by not making it a disincentive for the doctors to do that,” McNeil said.
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