We know there’s an opioid abuse problem. What can be done about it?
That is the question we began with three weeks ago. The crisis is complex, but many smart people are looking for ways out.
This has been a difficult series to assemble. It is built on the pain of those who have witnessed the destruction up close, and of those left behind with questions but few answers. Journalists often must report on people in pain and are not unaffected by it. But we also found plenty of good news, as new medicines arrive and as people and politicians awake to the suffering and money begins to flow.
As Susan Salomone of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, who lost her son Justin to an overdose in 2012, says: “Where there is life, there is hope.”
Every week and month and year brings progress. On Sept. 25, for example, the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) opened the Onward Recovery Community and Outreach Center in Newburgh, which provides free support and services for addicts in treatment, as well as their families. It was funded for five years with $1.75 million in state funds — your money, well spent. Among other initiatives, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed two pilot recovery high schools for students dealing with substance abuse.
The most effective treatment so far appears to be a combination of behavioral therapy and medical intervention with drugs such as Suboxone, which one study found could at least double a person’s chances of staying clean for 18 months. At the same time, studies have found that only 10 percent of addicts receive specialized treatment, and four in 10 never seek help.
There is a plan. Last year, Cuomo assembled a 23-member Heroin and Opioid Task Force that included Salomone, Patrice Wallace-Moore of Arms Acre in Carmel and state Sen. Terrence Murphy, whose district includes eastern Putnam County. After a series of public hearings, it made 25 recommendations, including mandating addiction training for healthcare professionals; limiting first-time opioid prescriptions for acute pain from a 30-day supply to seven; expanding access to painkillers that are difficult to crush or dissolve; and eliminating the need for a patient to have prior authorization from an insurer for long-term in-patient treatment.
We asked a number of people for their ideas on what should take priority in this fight and were overwhelmed with the responses. Thank you to the counselors, doctors, parents and law-enforcement officials who spoke with us over the past few months — and a special thanks to those who shared their personal experiences fighting this demon. Always fighting.
This series has four parts.
In Part 1, reporters Michael Turton and Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong spoke with the parents of young men who struggled with opioid addiction. One died, one survived, but they faced many of the same obstacles in getting treatment. We asked them to share their experiences, hoping it would provide a road map.
Intro // Sasha’s Story // Max’s Story
In Part 2, we examined the role of law enforcement and the courts in battling the epidemic. Turton looked at the work of the Putnam County Drug Court, while Jeff Simms spent time with Beacon and Dutchess County police officers who are at the front lines.
In Part 3, we explained treatment options. Brian PJ Cronin profiled the Dutchess County Stabilization Center, an innovative first stop for those in crisis, while Anita Peltonen and Armstrong visited treatment centers at Graymoor in Garrison, Arms Acres in Carmel and CoveCare Center (formerly Putnam Family & Community Services) in Carmel.
Finally, in Part 4, we shared the thoughts of specialists, counselors, doctors and those struggling with addiction about what they feel should take priority in addressing the problem.
We appreciate your feedback about the series and thoughts about how best to address the epidemic. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment below.