I lost my son to drugs in 1999, and my life has changed in so many ways since then. Sadly, many federal laws haven’t – and that’s why I’m not done yet.
One spring day more than 20 years ago, I heard a loud knock on my door. It was the police, telling me that my son – Danny Jr. – had been found shot to death in his car following a drug deal gone wrong. I simply could not understand how this came to be. I kept thinking about our favorite drive around our neighborhood of St. Bernard’s Parish, just east of New Orleans. We would go up and down a street lined with a wall of oak trees on either side that we came to call the “Tunnel of Hope.” Following my son’s death, it felt like I had lost that hope forever.
I kept my job as a pharmacist, and in the years following his death, the scourge of opioid use disorder became more and more clear to me. I have seen other lives, other families, and entire communities destroyed by this. I know – and there are studies to prove it – that most people do not even complete their opioid prescription. Bottles of pills sit in medicine cabinets, ripe for use and abuse. This situation puts lives at risk.
Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to make this situation much worse. Hospitals around the country have delayed elective surgeries, but states are starting to open up once again, and there will be a massive rush to reschedule these procedures. These types of surgeries are often associated with high rates of opioid prescribing. I am very concerned about a flood of pills into vulnerable communities just recovering from a challenging time.
Thankfully, there is another way. On the market today, we have a number of non-opioid pharmacological and non-pharmacological options that have been deemed safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration to treat acute pain, such as that from surgery or an injury.
Unfortunately, the federal government does not pay for these approaches under the Medicare program, which severely limits access for patients and providers. Now more than ever, the federal government needs to be doing everything it can to encourage the utilization of non-opioid pain management approaches to treat these types of acute pain.
As a pharmacist, I understand there are times when opioids are appropriate. These medications can serve a legitimate clinical need for some patients. However, I do believe that the federal government should make the full range of non-opioid options available to patients suffering from acute pain.
That is why I am calling upon our elected leaders in Congress to support and pass into law the Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation (NOPAIN) Act. If passed, this law would finally provide patients and providers choice in pain care by fully incentivizing the use of effective, non-addictive acute pain therapies. This small change could save hundreds of thousands of patients from unnecessary exposure to highly addictive substances.
My world was shredded when I lost my son two decades years ago, but I regained my hope. I pray that with the passing of this legislation, another father and son may get the chance to find their own “Tunnel of Hope” without their time being cut short by addiction.
Please contact your elected leaders and ask them to pass the NOPAIN Act. The time to act is now.
Dan Schneider is the subject of the new Netflix documentary series, “The Pharmacist.” Since losing his son in 1999, Dan has advocated tirelessly to build a nationwide movement to stop the opioid epidemic and founded the websitewww.tunnelofhope.org [tunnelofhope.org]