Because of Ohio’s heroin epidemic, legislators and health officials have pushed to reduce the amount of opioid pain-killers prescribed by physicians.
A 51-year-old Middletown man diagnosed with intractable pain disease requires as much as 70 times the amount of painkiller a doctor would normally prescribe. Now, he finds himself in the middle of the pain-killer debate.
Kevin Morgan’s brain and pain receptors were severely damaged in a horse accident 22 years ago and in the surgery that followed.
“We are going against the tide of the heroin epidemic,” admitted Mason attorney Konrad Kircher, representing Morgan for free. “The heroin epidemic started with opiates. So you got this big tide going toward the heroin epidemic and you got Kevin Morgan swimming upstream. That’s a huge tide.”
In 1994, the horse Morgan was riding fell on him, rolled on him, stomped on his head several times, and left him with limited feeling from his chest down. He stayed in a hospital bed and wheelchair for seven years and was told he’d never walk again.
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Morgan now wants to have the enormous amount of pain pills he received returned after they were abruptly cut off by his physician nine months ago.
He says he needs the pills to withstand the pain, but his dosages caught the attention of government agencies. They became suspicious the drugs were going to an addict or a dealer instead of a patient dependent on them. When Morgan’s pain-treatment doctor thought he might lose his medical license, he dropped Morgan as a patient.
Morgan takes almost 5,700 milligrams of morphine each day compared to 80 to 120 milligrams that an average patient gets. His is enough to kill an elephant, Kircher said.
The battle is taking place in Ohio, what Kircher called “the pill mill” state.
Kircher said the same day a story about Morgan appeared in the Columbus Dispatch last week, the State Medical Board of Ohio met and members discussed Morgan’s case. He called the discussion “favorable,” though the board minutes have not been released.
“Progress is being made, and it’s being made pretty quickly,” Kircher told Morgan. “Hang in there.”
Representatives from the State Medical Board of Ohio, the State Board of Pharmacy and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration all have investigated Morgan and his pain-killer dosage during repeated visits to Middletown, he said.
After watching him take his pills and showing no ill effects, they concluded Morgan was taking all the medication and not abusing it, said Cheechee Rose, who cares for Morgan and owns the Crawford Street home where he lives upstairs.
She said the amount of drugs Morgan requires “is crazy. You can’t believe it.”
Rose said without the drugs, Morgan isn’t the same person.
“He is slowly dying,” she said before Morgan entered the room. “The man he is today isn’t even close to the man he was before. He has lost everything trying to stay alive. The Kevin we see today, six months ago, year ago, two years ago, you wouldn’t recognize him. I’ve never seen anyone fight like Kevin, not just to stay alive but to have some kind of life.”
Morgan, who refused to say where he’s getting his pain medication, said he has spent $80,000 on it since his doctor stopped treating him earlier this year. He’s financially broke and mentally exhausted, he said.
“There’s a difference between a drug addict and being drug-tolerant,” Morgan said. “I can’t help the brain damage. I can’t help the accident.”
Morgan has had two pain killer doctors: Dr. Tim Smith, who surrendered his medical license in 2013 after the state said he inappropriately prescribed high doses of controlled substances and failed to properly document treatment for some patients; and Dr. Thomas Knox, who was targeted by state regulators after they noticed the high doses of opiates.
Dr. Knox is vacationing in Italy and was unavailable for comment, said his attorney Dan Zinsmaster. He said after constant regulatory scrutiny, Dr. Knox had to make “some tough decisions,” including dropping Morgan as a patient.
“It’s like if the cops follow your car long enough, you will conform and hope they don’t stop your car,” he said. “This is not much different.”
Zinsmaster said the goal is to have the pain pill pendulum “rest comfortably in the middle,” but he knows there are extremes.
Tessie Pollock, a spokeswoman for the State Medical Board of Ohio, said the board is contacted about potential physician misconduct by the public, medical staff, fellow physicians and hospital employees.
She said the state board looks for physicians who show “a pattern” of over- and inappropriate prescribing. She said during 2015, 35 percent of the physicians were disciplined because of impairment and 19 percent were for prescription issues.
Morgan said it hurts every time he sneezes, and if he sneezes for five times, his airway closes. That’s what happened Tuesday night. Rose found him lying on the floor in his bedroom.
“Thank God there was someone here,” he said slowly, his head barely off his chest.
Morgan’s movements resemble a robot. He required the assistance of three people to help him down the stairs at his Middletown home. Every step looked more painful than the previous. He finally sat on a couch, but he never appeared comfortable, pain free.
Asked how old he feels, he repeated the question, then, after a long pause, said: “I feel they have beaten me down so bad, have me so weak. I’m not afraid of dying. But nobody should be tortured. Nobody.”