After more than 75 surgeries, Shilo Harris credits North Canton's Tim Novelli with breaking his habit.

After Army Staff Sergeant Shilo Harris’s armored vehicle was struck by an IED in Iraq 11 years ago, he faced a long road to recovery.

The explosion, which killed three of his fellow soldiers, left Harris with severe burns on 35 percent of his body, leading to the loss of his ears, the tip of his nose and three fingers, as well as a fractured left collarbone and C-7 vertebrae.

Harris underwent more than 75 surgeries, as well as a battle with PTSD. During the long recovery process, Harris was prescribed opioids to deal with his pain. At a press conference to promote alternatives to opioids with Ohio Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine on Tuesday, Harris said he didn’t know he was addicted until it was too late.

On a three-hour trip to visit family away from his treatment facility in San Antonio, Harris ran out of medication.

“Within two or three hours of running out of medications, I couldn’t drive back to San Antonio fast enough,” Harris said. “That’s how strong the addiction was.”

Harris was medically retired from the Army in 2010. Eventually, he was slowly weaned off of his medication, but a major setback came in the form of a traffic accident that required him to return to some of the opioids. Harris said he fell into a depression, and might have been hopeless had he not discovered alternative treatments.

“Chiropractic care saved my life in every sense,” he said.

Harris said change began when he met Tim Novelli, a chiropractor from North Canton. Novelli is the founder and president of the Patriot Project, which describes itself as a “grassroots movement to provide chiropractic care to all active military, their families, wounded warriors & all Gold Star dependents.”

Chiropractic treatment helped Harris manage his pain and overcome his addiction, he said. He’s since become the national spokesman for the Patriot Project, and advocates alternatives to opioids for pain management.

“Even though it was hard, it was worth the journey,” he said. “I’m not on any opioid medications at all, thanks to chiropractic care.”

DeWine said he convened a task force of managed care and insurance companies last summer to develop “innovative treatment”options to help fight the opioid epidemic. He said he expects recommendations from that group within a few weeks, but added the purpose of Wednesday’s press conference was to draw attention to alternative methods of pain treatment.

Ohio Senate Majority Whip Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said chiropractic care isn’t the only option available as an alternative to opioids in pain management. Acupuncture, massages, and even yoga could be alternatives, she said.

According to the Harvard School of Medicine, exercise, weight loss, psychotherapy and even meditation and other alternatives are available in place of opioids, which can be heavily addictive. In 2016, more than 4,300 Ohioans died from opioid use.

Some say DeWine isn’t doing enough to curb the opioid epidemic. On Tuesday, the Ohio Democratic Party released a statement blasting DeWine for what they say is a “lethargic” response to the opioid epidemic.

“If press events and televised town halls solved crises, Mike DeWine would’ve conquered them all, but outside of endless talk, DeWine has been woefully ineffective in taking on the crisis,” Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said in a statement.”

The Democratic release cited DeWine’s recent appearance on “The State of Ohio” program, in which he acknowledged the crisis has been growing. Ohio’s drug overdose deaths rose 39 percent between mid-2016 and mid-2017, according to a previous Dispatch report.

“The numbers have been going up, there’s no doubt about that,” DeWine said on the show.

Harris said the opioid epidemic was more than just a veteran or Ohio problem, but a national issue.

“We have to act right now and it starts right here today,” Harris said. “This crisis needs to stop.”

Bennett Leckrone is a fellow with the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau