By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
The pandemic has changed the course of human history forever. As we move forward beyond all the restrictions, mask wearing and debate around being vaccinated, we are trying to create a new normal. No one is quite sure what that might look like.
Whatever the new normal looks like, we need to transcend all of the political rhetoric and polarization that has infected the soul of our nation. We need to reclaim basic respect for people, no matter what their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and/or socioeconomic status.
Our vision has become so blurred; our moral compass impaired. Those we have elected to lead us, no matter what their political party, need to lead by example.
Our country was founded on diversity and freedom of speech. However, freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to trample on another person’s freedom or perspective.
The pandemic has consumed so many of our healthcare resources to care for those infected by the virus. Our healthcare community, with great courage, rose to the occasion and have been heroic in their care for all of our sick. Unfortunately, other healthcare concerns have not had the proper attention. Everyone in leadership, on both the federal and state level, have acknowledged the heroin epidemic is a national healthcare crisis. However, no money promised has reached the rank-and-file providers. Insurance companies continue to determine the financial equation for treatment. The recidivism rate based on their equation is dismal and becoming worse by the day.
Outpatient treatment for the heroin addict is a disaster — 28 days for hard-core relapsers is just the beginning. To tell the truth, most insurance companies will only cover 11 days of residential treatment because they’ve decided that after 11 days it’s not a medical emergency! That’s disgraceful!
It is apparent to me that they have not looked at the evidence-based research in regards to chronic heroin users and relapses. The research is clear — they need a minimum of 12 to 18 months with the hope of reclaiming their lives and developing the skills to sustain a life of abstinence and recovery.
What we are painfully learning is that we need to invest more resources after intensive treatment into transitional supportive services to ensure a recovering person success.
In the last six weeks, I have buried six young people who overdosed and died of heroin and fentanyl. Each of these young persons was in a variety of residential treatment settings. I am one cleric in a small region. Sadly, the number is probably triple that and not getting better.
Addicts do recover and reclaim their lives thanks to a collaborative effort on the part of many. On Memorial Day, a young recovering addict who was once a high school dropout and is now a successful attorney was married in New Jersey to another lawyer. I was privileged to preside at the ceremony and when it was finished, he whispered this to me: “thanks for helping me to reclaim my life. I will never forget you. I will always give back!”
On another positive note, a shout out to our Marine Bureau in Suffolk County. On a Saturday afternoon this month I was driving a boat to Davis Park where I am the pastor. The boat was filled with musicians in recovery who were going to play at the 5 p.m. mass there. We got halfway from Patchogue to Davis Park and the boat overheated. We were drifting in the great South Bay. Two police officers who were finishing their tour at Davis Park came out of their way to tow us in time for mass instead of just signing off. I am forever grateful to these two public servants for their service but also for their power of example for the young men in the boat who witnessed their service and kindness.
Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.