September 23, 2023

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Congress must resolve to act on opioid alternatives: Greg McNeil

HUDSON, Ohio — My life changed forever in October 2015 when my youngest son, Sam, overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl. I never could have imagined that this would be his destiny.

Sam had a big heart. In fact, he was introduced to opioids after plastic surgery to address injuries he received while defending a young woman at a party. It took just weeks for him to become addicted. And, as often happens, Sam’s opioid addiction quickly led to heroin.

Unfortunately, Sam’s story is not unique to our community or across the country. Nearly 80% of heroin users begin by abusing prescription pain medications. Opioids are still the standard of care to treat postoperative pain – and they set unknowing Americans onto a dangerous path from which many never return.

Every year, Father’s Day remains a painful reminder of the son I lost, yet it also drives me to ensure that no other fathers and families experience the same type of devastation we did.

This need to turn our pain into progress motivated my family to establish Cover2 Resources, a nonprofit that produces a podcast series about the people, places and things making a difference in the opioid epidemic, with shows that profile alternatives to the opioids that are often prescribed for pain treatment. Our team does meaningful work in Ohio and nationwide, but we also know that curtailing America’s opioid epidemic will require systemic change.

Despite available alternatives, most patients and health care providers are not given the option of using non-opioid pain management approaches. Although non-opioid pain management approaches frequently offer demonstrably better patient outcomes and system cost savings, Medicare – the largest health insurer in the nation – does not adequately reimburse for these treatments, giving providers little choice but to prescribe opioids for pain treatment. As a result, non-opioid pain management options are typically unavailable to patients and providers.

So, how do we reduce opioid use without abandoning patients in pain? The best option – particularly for postoperative pain patients – is to incentivize the use of all available non-opioid pain treatment approaches through improved Medicare reimbursement. Doing so would give providers and patients more choices to safely and effectively manage pain. We know that, in doing so, many patients and providers would choose to use non-opioid approaches. That decision would have the added benefit of preventing opioid addiction before it starts for millions of Americans who become long-term opioid users following surgery.

Greg McNeil

Greg McNeil lost his youngest son to an opioid overdose six years, prompting his family to found a nonprofit that produces podcasts about difference-makers in the pandemic. (Photo by Angelo Merendino. Used with permission.)

Fortunately, this issue has gotten the attention of Congress. Recently, our own Sen. Rob Portman and a group of his bipartisan colleagues reintroduced legislation that takes an upstream look at addiction prevention. Specifically, the Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation Act (“NOPAIN Act”) aims to increase patient and provider access to the wide array of safe and effective non-opioid pain management tools. The legislation does so by creating equitable incentives for the use of these approaches through updating now-antiquated Medicare reimbursement policies.

No other father across the country should have to experience what I and so many other dads have – the loss of a child to opioid addiction. Congress must embrace prevention as a key tool to combating our nation’s opioid crisis. The NOPAIN Act gives us the opportunity to reduce the tens of thousands of American lives lost every year to an opioid overdose.

I think about how different our lives would be if, on that fateful day of Sam’s surgery, we had been given the choice of non-opioids for pain management. This Father’s Day, I hope and pray our lawmakers pass the NOPAIN Act to prevent families throughout our country from sharing our fate.

Greg McNeil is the founder and president of Cover2 Resources, a nonprofit that produces a podcast series about the people, places and things making a difference in the opioid epidemic. He lives in Hudson with his family.

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