By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
Over the last number of weeks we have been reminded of the seriousness of the opioid epidemic that is plaguing our country and our larger community. There have been a number of op-ed pieces in a number of respectable newspapers speaking to this issue. Our president in his State of the Union address underscored how serious this health issue is and promised all Americans that his administration is working feverishly to end this lethal health epidemic.
In Blue Point, the St. Ursula Center convent on Middle Road is for sale. A profit-making business wanted to purchase this property and use it as a residential rehab for women. After much back and forth and intense push back from the local community this business has withdrawn its offer.
Let’s be clear, we are in desperate need for residential treatment beds for people battling the heroin epidemic. We especially need more beds for women. The Ursula Center would have been ideal.
However, some rather important facts and figures were never publicly addressed that are critical to understanding the complexity of this health issue and how it must be treated if we hope to be effective supporting people who are afflicted with this addiction. There is compelling research and evidence-based treatment research that is important to review and understand. We need long-term residential treatment beds for those battling the opioid epidemic. Very few recovering opioid addicts sustain recovery after only 30 days in residential treatment.
If the truth be told, most insurance companies will not pay for any kind of residential rehab until the consumer fails at outpatient treatment. The recidivism rate for heroin addicts in outpatient treatment is off the page. People are trying outpatient treatment first because they have no choice and they are failing, they are dying — that is unconscionable.
Our insurance companies should be held accountable for every unnecessary death caused by the industry’s unwillingness to do its job. For the record most insurance companies, if they agreed to pay for residential care, only end up paying for 11 days. They decide that after 11 days it’s not a medical necessity! The average hard-core addict struggling to survive takes at least 30 to 45 days to truly detox their bodies from all the toxins with which they have been infected.
It is very disturbing that those who lead us within our political bureaucracy are unwilling to take on the insurance companies for making life-and-death decisions regarding people who battle addiction. Taking a person into residential treatment with the promise of at least 28 days and then discharging them at day 11 because the insurance company won’t pay is a disgrace and a scandal.
The Blue Point community has every right to be concerned. We do not need any more short-term residential programs that do not honor their commitments. If we’re addressing the opioid epidemic, we need long-term residential treatment programs that work on transitioning the recovering person back into the real world, hopefully with the skills to survive a drug-infested world.
The governor of our state has promised millions of dollars for residential treatment. That promise was made over a year ago. Since that promise, not one dollar has been released for residential long-term treatment.
This health crisis is getting worse by the day, not better! As a community, we need to demand the distribution of the money promised to those who are trained to work in the area of residential treatment for addiction so we can begin to support recovering addicts and their families. People are petrified and they should be; this epidemic is out of control. Change and transformation can happen and it will with the right support.
As someone who has lived and still lives with struggling drug addicts, I watch them struggle to recover. I see their pain every day but I also see the miracle of change and transformation. Addicts do recover and reclaim their lives and enrich our communities. Hope must become the anthem of our souls!
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.