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Local path to addiction recovery has many obstacles


One of the biggest obstacles in the battle against drug addiction is the availability of treatment for individuals already in the throes of it. While that’s a struggle in most places, it rings particularly true on the North Fork.

A directory published by Suffolk County lists 38 organizations that offer services for substance abuse treatment and prevention. Of those, only eight have a presence in Riverhead or Southold towns, including five that provide some form of outpatient treatment.

Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport is the North Fork’s only in-patient treatment and detox center.

If convincing someone they need help isn’t challenging enough, finding access to the treatment they need — and a way to pay for it — are also significant barriers on the path to recovery.

“The epidemic is such that the treatment centers here are full,” said Lisa Ganz, clinical director with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which maintains an office on East Main Street in Riverhead. “It’s really tough to navigate that system sometimes, to get into treatment — and not for lack of trying. It’s just that there are so many people.”

LICADD, a nonprofit that relies on public donations, offers pre- and post-treatment services for people battling drug addiction, usually in the form of one-on-one meetings to help plot out a strategy. The organization then offers referrals for treatment and relapse-prevention counseling.

“We’re like A through D and then we’re W to Z,” Ms. Ganz said. “When people don’t know where to go, they call us.”

Ms. Ganz said getting an addict to say “I need help,” finding a treatment center and getting the financial pieces to work — particularly with insurance companies — are the biggest challenges her organization faces. She’s not alone in identifying those hurdles.

“I observe barriers to treatment across the board,” said Helene de Reeder, director of behavioral health services at Eastern Long Island Hospital. “For example, some of the insurance companies … may require an outpatient detox.
There’s no outpatient detox around here. There are very few in existence in Suffolk and Nassau county.

“Another example is that a person may have 30 days total [insurance coverage] in a calendar year for inpatient substance abuse and/or mental health,” Ms. de Reeder continued. “The nature of addiction as a disease is that it’s chronic and people relapse. One single episode does not necessarily constitute the entire treatment that people need.”

Ms. Ganz also said many insurance companies will not pay for medically assisted detox.

“With heroin withdrawal, you’ll wish you were dead, but it won’t kill you. That’s the irony,” she said. “[The insurance company] will say, ‘It’s not life-threatening, so go detox on your own.’”

Caption: Eastern Long Island Hospital hosts the only inpatient rehab and detox facility on the North Fork.
Caption: Eastern Long Island Hospital hosts the only inpatient rehab and detox facility on the North Fork.

ELIH is the only treatment facility between Orient and Riverhead licensed by the state Department of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. It features a 10-bed detox unit and a 20-bed rehab center in Greenport, and offers outpatient service in Riverhead. The average length of a detox stay is 3.1 days, while inpatient rehab typically lasts about two weeks.

About 90 percent of ELIH’s detox patients are admitted after being screened through the emergency room, Ms. de Reeder said.

“The detox unit, because it’s part of service like the rest of the hospital — if someone needs admission, we will find a room for them,” she said. “For the rehab unit, there can be a waiting list, and that varies.”

Ms. de Reeder said outpatient treatment is the most accessible for anyone and that ELIH hopes to expand those services through its new partnership with Stony Brook University Hospital.

Ms. de Reeder said she believes the East End is better off than other parts of the country that might have a community hospital but no other licensed substance abuse services, although she does think treatment options for minors are lacking. ELIH is only licensed to treat patients over 18 years of age.

“We certainly have more substance abuse services in our community than many others like us,” she said. “So we are fortunate in that respect, but don’t tell that to the mother of a 17-year-old opiate addict who can’t get treatment.”

Suffolk County Substance Abuse Programs

According to the county directory, Alternatives Counseling Center on East Main Street, Family Service League on Roanoke Avenue and Maryhaven Center of Hope and Seafield Services on West Main Street all provide adolescent treatment in Riverhead. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that about 12,000 Americans under age 18 sought treatment for heroin addiction in 2014.

SAMHSA also reported in 2014 that about 900,000 Americans of any age received inpatient hospital treatment for drug addiction. More than 2.2 million people received treatment through self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous.

In 2011, the first Heroin Anonymous group — a more specific offshoot of the 12-step alcohol and narcotics groups — launched in Suffolk County. Since March 2014 that group has hosted meetings Monday and Wednesday nights at Grace Episcopal Church on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead, the only such meetings in the five East End towns.

Jessica R., whose name we changed to protect her anonymity, has attended those meetings regularly since they launched. A Brookhaven Town resident in her 20s, she said knowing that everyone is walking into a room with other people dealing specifically with heroin addiction can be a draw for addicts who don’t necessarily identify with people at other 12-step meetings.

“In HA, it’s a much younger group,” she said. “We don’t have 30 years or 40 years of recovery we can offer each other because of that. But there are a lot of young people in their mid-20s or so who are actually working the program and actually recovering who have something to offer people.”

On the flip side, there are many others who aren’t quite ready to recover, creating a whole new challenge.

“People walk into our room sometimes and we have one chance because they could go back out and die immediately,” Jessica said. “It’s scary. It’s a scary place to be, but it is also very gratifying when you do see someone else recover. That means there’s a fighting chance for all of us.”

Photo Credit: Dylan Hartmann/Flickr