Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Friends Of Recovery - New York

At the invitation of Stephanie Campbell, head of Friends of Recovery- New York, I had the chance to speak at their Stand Up for Recovery Day Rally, March 6, 2018 in Albany, NewYork.  Thank you Stephanie.  My remarks follow below:

Allow me to congratulate and celebrate those of you in recovery here today.  Our son, William, cannot be with us this morning to share his recovery story.  I’ll do my best in his stead– offering my two cents worth in three minutes. 
In October of 2012 William went with his bag packed to Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan.  William had been injecting heroin, using benzodiazepines purchased on the street, and consuming alcohol.  Aware and afraid he might die, he asked to be admitted to inpatient detox.  His insurers, Emblem Health and their Utilization Review provider, Value Options, quickly determined that inpatient detox was “not medically necessary.”

William is not here to share his recovery story today, because there is no recovery story.  Four days after he was denied treatment William accidentally overdosed.  His heart stopped beating. He was revived by an EMS team and hospitalized for six weeks, by which time it was clear that grievous damage was done.  Deprived of oxygen for too long, William’s brain had withered to a point of no recovery. He was removed from life support and died in our arms.

Laws exist which ought to have prevented William’s denial of treatment. Unfortunately we have yet to achieve full implementation of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 nearly a decade after President Bush signed it into law.  The Act requires insurers to treat illnesses of the brain, such as depression and addiction, the same way they treat illnesses of the body, such as diabetes and cancer.  In the State of New York Timothy’s Law, permanently passed by the state legislature in 2009, requires similar parity. Yet insurers continue to ignore these laws, or scheme to avoid the responsibility imposed upon them by the law. Dodge, delay, and deny is a prescription for profit, not for treatment.   

In 2014 New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement, an Assurance of Discontinuance, with Emblem Health for wrongly denying mental health and substance abuse treatment for thousands of New York members. A similar settlement with Value Options was reached in 2015.  These are but two of several such settlements reached by the Attorney General with insurers in the past few years.

Our family has an ongoing lawsuit against Emblem Health and Value Options due to their denial of treatment for William.  I tell you this, because as Friends of Recovery it is incumbent upon us all to be the foes of any and all who would deny recovery. All of us must engage in ways large and small to demand and ensure compliance that results in treatment and recovery for all. No one should have to hold their dying child.    

We are faced with the difficult process of changing hearts and minds.  That means talking to minds that have no heart, talking to hearts that have no mind, and talking to those who have neither but believe they have the best of both. It can be daunting.  We must not back off.

In our common battle with addiction our biggest obstacle is a wall.  It is the wall of stigma that confines us and blocks the path toward long overdue change.  It is a wall constructed of bigotry, discrimination, judgment, ignorance, shame, and fear, bound by the mortar of greed.  It is our responsibility to sound a clarion call, over and over, louder and louder, longer and longer, until – like the Biblical Joshua – we bring that wall tumbling down.  Tumbling down to reveal an enlightened path of compassion on the other side, a path that becomes a road to recovery for all.  Sound the call, loud and clear.  We WILL prevail.  We WILL

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