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Father Frank Pizzarelli

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Father Frank in front of the new plaque at the Cedar Beach basketball courts. Photo courtesy of Councilwoman Bonner’s office

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These are difficult days for our country and for the world. The rhetoric all around us is infectious and vile. Recent images from our southern border about undocumented people being detained in squalor and filth is unconscionable. There is no humane justification for separating children from their parents no matter what their legal status is.

What has happened to our moral compass that was once able to transcend political parties and nonsense and do what is right for humankind?

Despite this troubling American landscape, hope and compassion still lives. On Friday, July 12, I went to support the efforts of two brothers from Miller Place who lost their brother from a heroin overdose more than five years ago.

To honor their brother who was a senior at Stony Brook University and an avid basketball player, The Jake Engel Foundation was created. Jake’s two brothers did not want their brother’s senseless death to be in vain. They were determined to celebrate his life and “bring awareness, community and change to all people negatively affected by substance abuse in Suffolk County.”

Their focus is on developing healthy outlets for youth. They reach out to people who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They reach out to students who need to navigate peer pressure during school; people who know others who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They believe that the human community as a whole is responsible for creating a world free of addiction!

These two brothers could have buried their heads in the sand. When they started Hoops for Hope five years ago, the youngest brother was still in high school and his older brother was still in graduate school.

These two courageous young men have raised thousands of dollars for many worthy programs that treat addiction. Equally as important, they have raised the awareness of an entire community about the opioid epidemic that is taking so many lives senselessly in record numbers.

When I arrived at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for this annual basketball tournament, there was not a parking spot to be found. There were vendors everywhere raising money for this important cause. Thirty teams participated from all over the North Shore. Ten teams were on a waiting list for next year because of limited space. 

That Friday was really a community effort. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Republican) had the Cedar Beach basketball court renamed “Jake Engel Memorial Basketball Court “Shine On …” and a new plaque was attached on its entrance gate.

The spirit in the air that day was electric. I must admit it was so good to feel so much positive energy that afternoon. These two young brothers continue to inspire an entire community to be more. Their passion and commitment to make a difference should be recorded and sent to every elected official at every level of our government, challenging them to roll up their sleeves and lead this nation by example — working harder to build bridges and not walls and grounded in hope that tomorrow can always be better than today.

These two brothers and their parents are the embodiment of our great American spirit and that hope lives! Hope does not abandon us. We abandon hope! Let hope become the anthem of our souls.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Are our smartphones destroying the fabric of the American family? Think about that question. How many young families with children are allowing their elementary school children to have smartphones with little or no restrictions?

In April, I was at a celebration with a family with three children from the Midwest; all were in junior high school. Dad is a successful attorney and Mom is a tenured schoolteacher. Grandparents and an aunt were also there to celebrate the eighth-grade daughter’s confirmation. By traditional definition, they are a strong, intact family.

After grace was said, I was amazed at what followed. These children are bright and articulate. They are not inhibited to share their opinions. After a few minutes of banter, which I initiated, they immediately became obsessed with their smartphones. The only communication for the remainder of the meal was shared among the adults present. 

As I flew back home after the celebratory dinner, I could not help but be distracted by my cellphone observation. I decided I would be more attentive of young people and how and when they use their smartphones. I must admit I was taken back by my observation.

On Tuesdays, I take an early morning train to New York City. I teach in the graduate school of social work at Fordham University. I was deafened by the silence. Based on observation, most of the passengers were on their smartphones, their tablets and/or their laptops. It was the rare row of seats in this crowded train where people were actually engaged in conversation!

So I decided to look further into the smartphone issue. I already knew from my experience that smartphones were becoming a problem in college classes, so much so that I had to develop a specific policy on the use of cellphones in my classes. 

However, I wanted to know more. When did you get your first smartphone? How many hours a day do you spend on it? Are you permitted to have a cellphone at family dinner? Would you rather text than speak to someone directly or leave a voicemail?

I was definitely concerned by their responses. I sought input from my classes in a four-year school and a community college. All who responded were students in the classes I taught at these respective schools. For the most part, their answers were the same.

Most students said they received their first smartphone by late elementary school, early junior high school — that is fifth or sixth grade. As small children, their use of their smartphone was limited by bedtime. However, by high school most students admitted they were using their smartphones from 10 to 15 hours a day, and in some cases, even more!

Most admitted that they would rather text or leave a voice message instead of talking. The only split was with those who had family dinners where cellphones were prohibited; however, those not having a family meal said it was not an issue. They were equally divided on how many had a family dinner and how many had not had a family dinner since early elementary school.

These observations could not be seen objectively as conclusive since the survey is very limited in number. However, it does offer us a lot of food for thought. It helps to explain for me as a teacher why college students’ writing skills have deteriorated over the years and their critical thinking skills are almost nonexistent. The human connection seems to be lost. The next generation seems more grounded in one-dimensional nonhuman connections rather than face-to-face human interaction.

For the sake of our future, we need to go back to simpler times where people were more important than social media posts and human touch with respect and dignity more valuable than a social platform. We must reclaim the fabric of our American family life before it is too late!

P.S. I still write hand-written notes and letters! LOL!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Above, flowers at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting in New Zealand

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On March 15, halfway around the world another horrific act of violence and hatred marred our world. Two mosques in New Zealand were viciously attacked and 50 innocent people were senselessly killed and countless others wounded because of their Muslim faith.

This particular act of hatred is even more depraved and despicable because it happened in a sacred house of worship. Traditionally all houses of worship are supposed to be safe havens for people who want to pray, rest and find peace.

Once again we are reminded of the infectious hate that wounds, blinds, divides and often kills. This hate is being perpetuated by a small group of narrow-minded people who have little or no respect for the sanctity of all human life, no matter what your color, your race, your nationality, your sexual orientation or your socioeconomic status.

In a free society, respect and inclusiveness of all people is foundational. We must continually give voice to these vital principles. Our nation was founded on religious freedom — not for certain religions, but for all religions! All houses of worship must be respected as well as everyone’s holy book.

This unfortunate tragedy in New Zealand reminds us that we still have so much more work to do in the areas of tolerance, respect, inclusiveness, acceptance and diversity on every level.

Words matter, especially when they come from people in authority and leadership. We all must confront hateful rhetoric, especially when and where it erupts. It should not matter who is using it. Hateful rhetoric is hateful rhetoric. No one is exempt from being held accountable in this regard.

We cannot pick and choose who we call out on their hateful speech. Hatefulness has no boundaries, no color, no class, no religion, no sexual orientation or economic status.

When our synagogues, churches and mosques are violated with hate and violence, it must be a call to action for all caring human beings everywhere. We must have the courage to stand up and confront the violent hate-mongers head-on.

Our silence is destructive. Unfortunately, it is seen by some as an affirmation of this vile behavior. Our message must be loud and clear. There are no exceptions, no excuses! There is no room in our country for violent, hateful destructive rhetoric and people.

We need to have the courage to work more aggressively and advocate for positive change in our country. We can no longer excuse the violent reprehensible and hateful behavior that erupted in New Zealand. Actions speak louder than words!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

The Christmas season is upon us. The village of Port Jefferson is decked out with lights and wreaths — there is definitely a spirit of Christmas in the air. 

The world is a crazy place. The violence and hate has become infectious, but the reason for the season has taken a hold of us once again in a number of places. People are reaching out and bridging differences. 

One such instance is Christmas Magic, an event that magically touches hearts old and young alike with the spirit of giving, sharing and serving others. Started more than 25 years ago by a young attorney who wanted his children to understand the real meaning of Christmas, his act of kindness and generosity has touched thousands of people across our county every Christmas season. 

Hundreds of caring high school students to college students, from youth programs and church communities sacrifice their time and reach out to thousands of children living in our shelters during the holiday season.

Close to 3,000 people gathered at Carnegie Hall on the second Monday in December this year for a Christmas concert. The headliners were powerful: Andy Cooney and his band, the Hibernian Festival Singers, the Irish Tenors, the New York Tenors and eight young men who have become a band of brothers supported by an extraordinary female voice that makes the H.I.M.S. and Her such an extraordinary musical talent.

This band of brothers are young men who are broken and wounded, from all over, trying to reclaim their lives while living in a long-term nontraditional treatment program for addictions. The story of these men is a story of powerful change and transformation. Their performance at Carnegie Hall brought that packed house of concertgoers to their feet. It was a night of inspiration to remember.

A few days before their performance at Carnegie Hall these gifted and talented men volunteered to sing Christmas carols at the retirement home for the Dominican Sisters at their motherhouse in Amityville. I started to visit these sisters every Advent because I’m a product of Dominican education. In my junior high school years, I was profoundly influenced by three very dynamic women of faith. This has been my simple way of saying thank you.

After serving the church in a variety of leadership roles for more than 50 years, my former eighth-grade teacher took a job at Pax Christi, an emergency men’s shelter in Port Jefferson. She began working five days a week until she was 85 years old cleaning toilets, making beds and bringing hope to countless men who thought their lives were hopeless.

Today Sr. Beata is in her mid-90s. She is still as sharp as can be but has a difficult time getting around. The sisters she lives with range in age from their mid-70s to 107 years old. 

After caroling that Saturday morning, the young men walked among these extraordinary women hugging and kissing them; the room was aglow. The sister who is 107 years old came over to me to thank me for bringing these young men. She said it was her greatest Christmas present. All her family has died and her friends as well. She has no visitors. After one of the young men hugged her she started to cry. She hadn’t been hugged in over a year and she said thank you for helping her feel alive again.

As we drove home, these men on the road to recovery and wellness were on fire — not realizing how in their brokenness with their simple carols they brought so much joy to a community of women who were such a source of hope and light for so many generations.

Christmas seems to be that time of year to remind each other of the profound goodness that lives within each of us and to be conscious that each one of us has the power to make a difference that really does count.

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

The H.I.M.S. and Her

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Since I last wrote this column, so much has happened that underscores that we have lost our moral compass. The confirmation process of our most recent Supreme Court Justice was an embarrassment. The behavior on the part of all involved on both sides of the aisle including the White House was reprehensible.

Have we lost all respect for the integrity and dignity of the human person? True leaders lead by personal example and respect. The moral decay has become infectious. The search for the truth has become inconsequential.

Meanwhile, on the home front parents continue to senselessly bury their children of all ages due to the opioid epidemic, and our national health crisis seems to have no real end in sight.

For all the circular rhetoric around this issue, we still have no additional beds for long-term residential treatment. Insurance companies continue to murder our most vulnerable by telling them to try outpatient treatment first; and if they fail, then they will pay for residential care, which for the record is down to less than 11 days!

Those that we have elected to lead us and protect us are clearly uneducated and clueless in regards to the devastation of this epidemic.

One outraged mother met with a group of parents and a local congressional person to voice their concerns for his lack of support on this issue and his support of the insurance industry. One of the mothers spoke out and said: “I did what you told us to do; I tried outpatient treatment for my son and he failed!” She then placed the cremated ashes of her son on his desk. The congressperson said nothing!

Despite all of this negativity, hope continues to give me strength to fight the good fight. On Oct. 20 at the Shoreham Country Club, a band that came together in early recovery did a benefit concert. They were amazing. They are known as the H.I.M.S. (Hope Inspired Men Sing) and Her. It was a refreshing evening of music that was filled with hope, change and transformation. People do recover and reclaim their lives after addiction!

The event was the idea of a retired lawyer from Shoreham who wanted to raise awareness around the affliction of addiction and also raise money that could help the recovery effort that is happening at Hope Academy on the grounds of Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai. Thanks to her efforts more than $4,000 was raised that night.

On Sunday afternoon, at the dynamic Mount Sinai Congregational Church in Mount Sinai, that community installed a new pastor, the Rev. Phil Holson. The celebration was filled with joy, gratitude and renewed hopefulness.

The Mount Sinai Congregational Church has been a prophetic voice in our midst. As a local faith community, members don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk! 

This is evidenced in their mission statement that is quite inclusive. It states as a congregation they are committed to justice and all are welcome — regardless of age, race, abilities, economic or marital status, gender, sexual orientation or gender identification. They state they are a church that is open and affirming of all people, as we are all made in the image of God.

For almost four decades, I have seen this church community in action. Their commitment to social justice is an inspiration! Welcome Pastor Phil to the neighborhood! Thanks for saying yes — we need another prophetic voice in our midst!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

District Attorney Tim Sini (D). File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Recently District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a new initiative to combat the drug epidemic ravaging Suffolk County. The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery and Education Program, or CARE Program, allows nonviolent defendants with substance abuse disorders a full dismissal of chargers if the person successfully completes a 90-day treatment program. It was designed by prosecutors, defense attorneys and court officials.

This initiative is definitely a positive step in the right direction. As someone who has provided outpatient and residential treatment for addictions for more than 25 years, I am deeply concerned that this effort lacks substance and appropriate resources for those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Many of our judges have already been open to alternative sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. 

There are some important facts that seem to always get buried when this important issue is raised. These are facts that the public should know. 

First and foremost, we do not have nearly enough detox and/or residential treatment beds.

And insurance no longer covers a full 28-day stay in a residential treatment program. At best, most will only cover 7 to 11 days. That is unconscionable. More tragically, many insurance companies tell those battling chronic addiction “try outpatient treatment first — fail at this then we will pay for residential care.”

A growing number of young men and women are trying outpatient treatment first and are failing in record numbers. They are dying! What is very disturbing is that few to no voices are crying out about this horrific human atrocity.

Evidence-based treatment grounded in competent research states that the chronic opioid and heroin addict needs long-term residential treatment if long-term recovery is the hope for outcome.

Presently in Suffolk County we have two programs that provide more than three months of care. Only one program is not insurance based.

So the CARE initiative is a great step forward. Let’s not set those struggling with addictions within the criminal justice system up for failure because we lack the comprehensive and competent resources to make the CARE Program an effective tool on one’s road to recovery and wellness.

Unfortunately, outpatient programs have very limited success with chronic drug abusers. Do some enter and sustain health recovery? Yes, but a growing number fail.

As one local religious leader, I have presided at way too many funerals for young people who have died senselessly around addiction. In the past three weeks, I have had three young adults with tremendous potential lose their lives because of overdosing on heroin. I have talked with many of my colleagues in religion who are burying a record number of young people within their own faith traditions. 

Actions speak louder than words. The violence of our silence is contributing to this national health crisis. Change and transformation is possible. I live among these miracles everyday.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Photo by Alex Petroski

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

June is the month to celebrate so many wonderful connections. We celebrate the beginning of summer, various graduations and the gift of our fathers.

This year our schools have been in crisis because of the conflict around gun safety and the unfortunate tragedies caused by reckless gun use in a number of our schools across the country. We continue to struggle around the value of common core, teacher evaluations and empowering students to learn not just academic lessons but also life lessons.

Our schools are an invaluable resource that we are destroying. They are environments that have helped countless students find their way in the world and have provided a context for children to grow and become all that they can be. Schools have helped many to build positive self-esteem and self-worth and have empowered our students to dream dreams and believe that their dreams really can happen.

Nationally, our educational system seems to be broken. We are more fixated on test scores and teacher evaluations than on providing an environment where students can thrive and excel; a place where teachers can teach and be creative; a place where their spirit of love of education can be contagious. We’ve lost that and now we are failing our students and setting them up for disaster. 

Despite the landscape this year, an extraordinary group of young men and women have graduated from our high schools. Our communities are better and brighter because these young men and women have spent time in our schools. They are our future leaders, our future Congress and our future president. Hopefully they will continue their educational journey with passion and energy, believing that they can make a difference in our world.

Photo by Alex Petroski

Seniors, as you graduate from high school this year, look to discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace and be willing to work for peace grounded in justice.

May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending; teach love to those who only know hate; and let the love embrace you as you continue your journey in the world.

Think positive, make positive choices — choice not chance determines one’s destiny. You may make a living by what you get but make a life by what you give. Give generously of your heart, your time, your talent and your treasure; the autograph you leave will make a tremendous difference in the world.

Don’t judge a book by its cover or stop at the introduction. Read it through, see the meaning and message it offers for life. Everyone’s life is sacred and important, even those who are different from you or those you do not like. Be more inclusive than exclusive; don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame, guilt and religion to shackle people and divide them. Set people free with your respect and your nonjudgmental way.

These are troubling times. The rhetoric of our country is despicable and disrespectful. As the next generation of leaders, raise the bar, dare to be different. Have the courage to stand up and be counted, challenge injustice, disrespect and dismissive rhetoric. 

Make America good again by rejecting the unconscionable behavior of those who lead us. Do not allow them to shape how you see the world. Commit yourselves to building bridges and not walls. Live a balanced life. Learn a little, think a little, dance, play, have a great sense of humor. But most of all be aware of wonder and respect it!

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings, no matter what their color, their race, their creed and/or sexual orientation. May this compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace, human rights and social justice for all. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Congratulations graduates of 2018. Thanks for making the world a little richer, a little brighter and a better place to be and thank you for being our beacon of hope!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

The band H.I.M.S. performs at the War on Addiction Rally. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On Saturday, April 21, more than 1,000 people gathered to rally against drug addiction at Bald Hill in Farmingville. It was a powerful demonstration of our human spirit!

The event was spearheaded by two parents, who buried their son, who died of a heroin overdose, two years ago. Instead of burying their heads in the sand, they decided to become proactive and raise people’s awareness to the painful affliction of addiction. They urged greater advocacy for more accessible residential treatment beds for those battling addiction.

The speakers were challenging and heart wrenching. Each one eloquently reminded us to be a voice for change — urging us to speak loudly about the stigma and shame that so many people live with because of addiction and its infection.

A mother wrote a piercing letter that was read about her son who overdosed and died last year. She spoke of the heartache she still endures a year later. N.L. was in his mid-20s. He was bright, handsome, very athletic and born into an extraordinary family. After an athletic injury and being prescribed opiates for pain, his nightmare began. His family’s nightmare began as well.

N.L. constantly struggled with long-term recovery and abstinence. His mother recounted that during one of the periods of abstinence, her son was working hard at recovery. One day he was at a local bagel store in his community waiting on line and saw the father of a friend. He went to shake his hand but the man turned his back and walked away! What was that about? 

N.L.’s sister was also tortured on social media. What happened to reaching out and providing support and encouragement for those struggling with recovery?

The rally that Saturday morning did provide support. However, it was bittersweet. So many who attended have already buried their children, and many others were struggling with sons and daughters who are still out there and using.

Too often when we talk about addiction, we talk about the dark side of this painful health epidemic. The day ended on a note of hope. So often we focus on all those who’ve overdosed and died because of this horrific health crisis.

People do recover! A group of young men who live in a long-term nontraditional rehabilitation residence in our community formed a band known as the H.I.M.S. — Hope Inspired Men Sing. They closed the rally with a powerful rendition of “Go Light Your World” by Chris Rice.

“There is a candle in every soul. Some brightly burning, some dark and cold. There is a Spirit who brings a fire. Ignites a candle and makes His home. … Cause we are a family whose hearts are blazing. So let’s raise our candles and light up the sky. … Make us a beacon in darkest times. … Hold out your candle for all to see it. Take your candle, and go light your world!”

These extraordinary young men, ranging in age from 25 to 46, stood before this crowd as a reminder that people do get better. People can reclaim their lives, rejoin their families and contribute to making the world a better place.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Local officials showed their support at last year's Walk Agains Addiction at Cedar Beach. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank

Last year more than 64,000 people died of drug overdoses across our country. In Suffolk County alone over 600 deaths occurred due to opioids. That doesn’t include the countless deaths of young people written up in our newspapers as dying from “heart attacks” because too many families are embarrassed and ashamed that their sons and daughters are addicts.

So our count of deaths due to heroin overdoses I contend is much higher than the quoted 600 deaths. As one clergy person in our community, I preside over one overdose death every other week. At this point, in Suffolk County, we are burying at least two or three young people each week.

Two years ago this month, a young man from our community tragically passed away from an accidental heroin overdose. Billy had struggled with addiction for a number of years. He was totally supported by his family with all of his recovery efforts. He had extended periods where he was drug-free. Unfortunately, he was not able to sustain long-term abstinence and recovery.

His parents were beside themselves. Their grief was beyond words. It was overwhelming. Billy’s dad spoke at his son’s funeral; using his son’s voice to address the extremely large crowd of young people that gathered to honor their friend.

He urged them to take care of themselves, reminded them that life is fragile and that they need each other. Instead of burying their heads in the sand, Billy’s parents decided to become proactive to celebrate the gift of their son’s life, raise awareness and educate people specifically about heroin addiction.

Probably one of their greatest gifts to this war against addiction is their power of example. Their love and positive energy led to the creation of the Walk Against Addiction, which was held at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai on April 22 of last year to honor their son’s life and struggle and provide support for other families who are struggling.

More than 600 people gathered on that rainy Saturday morning to make a statement that all life matters. Countless families came with signs honoring their children lost to addiction seeking the solidarity and support of other families.

Billy’s parents’ tenacity to raise awareness and educate people about the perils of recovery and wellness has been profound. As an addiction specialist, I know people do recover, reclaim their lives and live fully productive lives, but the journey is long and oftentimes very, very difficult!

Their energy and commitment gave birth to the War on Addiction Rally to be held on Saturday, April 21, 2018, at the Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Farmingville from 10:30 a.m. to noon. While this event is free to attend, donations are appreciated. The major purpose for this rally is to educate, raise awareness, rally for compassion, change and hope! The organizers are hoping to fill the amphitheater with more than 3,000 people.

This event is intended to be more than just a rally, to hopefully be the beginning of the movement that will inspire people to challenge the government to stop paying lip service to this national epidemic health crisis and actually begin to do something that matters. 

We need more treatment beds today, not tomorrow. We need to take on the insurance industry that is sentencing our kids to death in record numbers because they are denying residential treatment.

We need a greater network of support services for those battling addiction that is accessible to the person in early recovery. People who are afflicted with addiction need greater access to mental health services that are affordable and confident.

These are troubling times — disrespect, prejudice and discrimination are everywhere. We need to remove the stigma from people afflicted with addiction. We need to end the shame, blame and disrespect!

Our leadership on the federal and state level is a disgrace. They are an abysmal failure. They need to be challenged to give voice and support all those who are attempting to walk the difficult road of recovery, one day at a time. Sometimes it’s one hour at a time. However, hope is the anthem of our souls.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

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.