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Make addiction recovery a priority in New York State

By Bill Williams
April 6, 2016

In early February I joined several hundred recovery advocates to meet with lawmakers in Albany. We told our stories of an addiction epidemic that is killing 362 people daily in our communities, stories of struggle, recurrence of the disease, lack of services, incarceration, and unspeakable loss. At the time I wrote about some of these stories on Medium (see http://bit.ly/1oyuNVu).

When we met with lawmakers in Albany we were told that our request to add $50 million to a grossly underfunded Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuses Services (OASAS) budget to support Recovery Community Organizations, Recovery Community Centers, Recovery Coaches, and Family Support Navigators was entirely reasonable and rational.

More recently the subcommittee for mental health decided that $15 million in additional funds for the executive budget was an appropriate response to the greatest public health crisis the nation has seen in decades. This insignificant amount of money isn’t nearly enough to address the most deadly (and stigmatized) epidemic to hit New Yorkers since the AIDS crisis.

My Easter began Good Friday with a phone call from a distraught mother looking for help, trying to get her daughter into long-term rehabilitation. Shortly afterward I talked with another mother whose son is struggling to find adequate long-term recovery services. Both have stories of substandard treatment facilities in Sullivan County—a county where the coroner reports that a quarter of all deaths are drug related. Today I had yet another call from a mother desperate to find adequate treatment that also meets the requirements of Sullivan County’s Drug Court.

Without recovery supports in place, our loved ones who receive addiction prevention and treatment services lack a continuum of care for their illness. This means that when they return to our communities, sustained recovery from the disease of addiction becomes extremely difficult. Their disease recurs; they may break the law or even die. The broken system is a setup for failure. We must invest in the infrastructure of recovery supports.

It’s easy to give well-meaning but empty platitudes to a distraught mother or father who has lost a child when they beg lawmakers for help in addressing the number-one killer among people aged 18 to 24. But they deserve more. Our families deserve action. We need the necessary resources put into the state OASAS budget so that our loved ones don’t continue to die.