Since losing his son to opioids, Gary Mendell has been on a mission to shake up the system

By on June 8, 2018

From The Chronicle of Philanthropy:  Gary Mendell always operated in high gear. The entrepreneur made himself rich, co-founding in 1985 the HEI hotel conglomerate and later raising more than $1 billion for private-equity funds.

But after his son Brian died in the fall of 2011, Mendell struggled to get out of bed. He was convinced he was the only person in Connecticut to lose a child to opioid addiction. He berated himself for failing to keep his son safe. He agonized about what else he might have done.

What really cut his legs out from under him, Mendell says, was extensive reading of scientific research on what works and what doesn’t in treating substance-use disorders. It wasn’t that Brian didn’t have access to care — his family paid for eight treatment programs in eight years. It was that much of the treatment was not scientifically sound, the senior Mendell came to learn. And Brian was hardly unique. About one in 10 people with substance-use disorders is treated; of those who do get help, just a third receive treatment that meets minimal standards of care, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

“If he had been treated with the systems and the procedures and the protocols that have been proven to work through research that was done over the last 30 years, my son would probably be alive,” Mendell says. Today, the 61-year-old Mendell is again at full throttle. His agenda is deeply personal and wildly ambitious: overhaul the quality of and payment for addiction treatment, tighten doctors’ prescribing practices, and get health-care providers to screen early and often for substance abuse. He donated $5 million to found Shatterproof, a nonprofit that Mendell aims to increase in size and influence to parallel other major disease-focused charities such as the National Heart Association.

“It sounds crazy,” says Thomas McLellan, a former Obama administration official and an addiction expert who has advocated for years for addiction to be treated as a chronic disease. “Except it’s him.”

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