May 10, 2019
A key solution to the continuing opioid problem on Long Island lies in additional funding for treatment programs, specifically to ensure that the salaries of treatment professionals rise to levels commensurate with other health care professionals, said Debra Pantin, president/CEO of Outreach, the treatment agency in Brentwood that hosted a bipartisan legislative breakfast event on Friday, May 3.
Pantin was joined in her calls for a focus on treatment by State Senators Monica R. Martinez (D), Anna M. Kaplan (D), Phillip Boyle (R), and Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini (D). Moderating the event was John Coppola, Executive Director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP) of NYS, a co-sponsor of the event.
“We’re not able to fill treatment slots if we don’t have the credentialed personnel to provide counseling to the thousands of people who need assistance,” said Pantin.
Senator Martinez said, “We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem. That’s why we need programs like Outreach. We keep seeing death. This has to end. You have my commitment to find the needed resources.”
Senator Kaplan said, “Our state is in crisis, with addiction impacting every family, every school, and every community, particularly here on Long Island. We have seen too many of our family and friends repeatedly failed by a system that doesn’t understand the disease of addiction, nor the struggle of those impacted by it. We must address the weaknesses in the treatment care continuum so that those seeking long-term recovery have a chance at beating this disease.”
Senator Boyle, former chairman of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee, said while strides have been made on the issue, bipartisan support is needed to continue to fight addiction-related overdoses and deaths in the state.
The audience and legislators quickly built a strong consensus around the need to advocate for more resources in next year’s state budget, both statewide, and particularly for Long Island, so the provider community can continue initial progress recently seen. One suggestion that generated serious discussion was a bill proposing that the alcohol tax be increased a few cents per each alcoholic beverage purchased to support further expansion of treatment, prevention, and recovery services.
Pantin also said staffing levels at treatment programs continue to diminish as workers in the field find positions with higher salaries in other areas of health care. “Staff shortages challenge our ability to meet required counselor-client ratios. This threatens providers’ capability to optimize treatment capacity, and could lead to unnecessary overdose deaths,” she said.
Coppola seconded that idea by saying too many programs across the state have waiting lists and that the lack of competitive salaries is unacceptable.
Pantin added that there are also commercial insurance barriers that limit the length of stay in treatment programs and carry high deductibles that stand in the way of adequate care for patients.
District Attorney Sini provided statistics from his office indicating that opioid deaths are on their way down, but that more work is needed. He said his office continues to implement programs that send non-violent drug offenders to treatment rather than jail.
“Anything I can do to support this place [Outreach], I would be privileged to do,” said Sini.
The legislative breakfast was held at Outreach House in Brentwood, a residential program that provides alcohol and substance abuse treatment for adolescents.
If you or someone you know needs help with a drug or alcohol problem, please call Outreach, with locations in New York City and Long Island, at 718-847-9233, or visit opiny.org.
About the New York State Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP)
The Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State (ASAP) is committed to working together to support organizations, groups and individuals that prevent and alleviate the profound personal, social and economic consequences of alcoholism and substance abuse in New York State. ASAP represents the interests of the largest alcoholism and substance abuse prevention, treatment, research and training providers in the country. Membership from coalitions, business, organizations and individuals who support ASAP’s mission is welcomed.
Outreach has been providing services to help individuals rebuild their lives since 1980. Thousands of teens, adults, and families have dramatically changed their lives with the help Outreach provides. The organization has had a substantial positive impact on communities on Long Island as well as in Brooklyn and Queens. For numerous years, Outreach has been named one of the “Best Companies to Work For in New York State.”