Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Letter to New York Governor Kathy Hochul

The Honorable Kathy Hochul

 Governor of New York State

 NYS State Capitol Building

 Albany, NY 12224


Dear Governor Hochul:


There are four crucial bills sitting on your desk right now that will ensure that ALL New Yorkers, regardless of their insurance provider or involvement with the criminal legal system, can access the life-saving addiction treatment they need.

In particular, I write to urge you to sign A.533(Rosenthal)/S.1795(Bailey) to mandate the use provision of medication for the treatment of substance use disorder (SUD) in all New York State’s jails and prisons. 

Why do I write?  Addiction treatment in New York’s correction facilities is sadly lacking and/or misguided.  Passing this bill will be a small step toward  larger remedy.

In July of 2016, I attended the sentencing of a young upstate New York neighbor who had committed a burglary in thrall to his drug addiction. As a friend of his family, as the father of a son who died from a heroin overdose, and in my role as an activist, I’d written a lengthy letter to the judge requesting the young man be provided every opportunity to receive the most up-to-date addiction rehabilitation services the State of New York corrections system could provide, both immediately and throughout the duration of his sentence.  I asked the court to direct that his file demonstrate that it was imperative he receive the best drug treatment available.


I went into some detail to demonstrate that “afflicted with the disease of addiction, [he] had been ill-served by a lack of proper treatment providers and by insufficient or ill-informed treatment when any was available.  A case that should have been a public health problem with reliable public health solutions fell instead to an overburdened criminal justice system.”


Lest one think I was proposing some wildly radical idea, consider what Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, wrote in Scientific American in March of 2018. “Informed Americans no longer view addiction as a moral failing, and more and more policymakers are recognizing that punishment is an ineffective and inappropriate tool for addressing a person’s drug problems. Treatment is what is needed.” 


I am not suggesting treatment instead of prison for a crime.  I am saying effective treatment could have averted the need to commit a crime in the first place; that effective treatment while incarcerated can prepare someone for a responsible, productive life upon release; or at the least will help prevent a return to prison following a repeat offense related to drug use. Or substantially reduce the chance of death soon after release.


Little did I know then, indeed only until I stumbled upon this information most recently, that our nation’s jails and prisons operate under the "inmate exception". When Congress established Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, it specifically prohibited either plan from paying for health care in the nation’s jails and prisons. “This explicit exclusion…has contributed to a significantly under-resourced correctional health care system that is isolated from mainstream medicine and shielded from critical accreditation and external quality oversight mandates.”[1]Was the judge aware of the “inmate exception” when he handed down his sentence?  How familiar was he with drug and alcohol treatment in New York’s prisons? How na├»ve was I to ask the court to recommend the best treatment available thinking that there were real options?


What has happened to the young man in question?  From January 2016, when first arrested until the current time, he has been locked up in one county jail and SEVEN different state correctional facilities. Following the county jail, he has bounced from Downstate, to Great Meadow, Eastern, Coxsackie, Mohawk, Woodbourne, and Fishkill.  In his estimation, the best treatment he got anywhere was as an outpatient while in the county jail. He did enter one six-month treatment program (ASAT – Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment). As he has advised me, ASAT is “a standard program for anyone who mentions any drug or alcohol use when entering DOCS in reception or is convicted of either as a part of their crime.” He participated in ASAT at Great Meadow at the beginning of his sentence for three months before being transferred to Eastern. “I tried to get into ASAT to complete it for the Family Reunion Program and to have it out of the way.  [Instead]…I was transferred in a quick fashion to Coxsackie due to the counselor knowing me from the Recovery Center and outside AA/NA groups.”  Now he will have to start the program all over again, most likely at the end of his sentence, which is typically how the system operates.  Once in ASAT, a prisoner is segregated and only able to avail themselves of job programs or study opportunities on a part-time basis.  ASAT can be as corrupt and corrupting as it is beneficial, oftentimes conducted by inmates under the supervision of counselors.  


The young man I write about has spoken intermittently with overworked counselors at each facility. He’s had little access to AA meetings, and no group work at all during the Covid pandemic. Complaints or outside interference are of no use, as they may well bring on retribution. It appears he will have to wait things out for at least three years still ahead of him. A tough row to hoe for anyone, much less someone who may still need to resist the call of a substance, without a strong support network. In the meantime, he works at welding in an Industry program where he recently earned a 26 cent pay increase, is described as a “great welder” by his supervisor, “a pleasure to have in Industry.” 


One can only hope he can weld himself a drug-free future so that he can enjoy the pleasure of freedom in society once he obtains his release.  In August 2016, I wrote the judge to thank him for his consideration. “Mr. [Doe] is but one thread in the connection that ties us in the fight against drugs and addiction.  As I sat in court and those about to be sentenced shuffled in, I could not help but notice how close they all were in age.  You, of course, see this scenario over and over.  For me, it was a refreshing and disturbing reminder of work that needs to be done.” How long will it take for New York State to build a truly comprehensive drug treatment program, both in and out of our prisons and jails? 




The state needs your leadership to start the building of a comprehensive program.  Signing A.533(Rosenthal)/S.1795(Bailey) will be an important first step.


Respectfully yours –


Bill Williams

102 High Meadow Road

Livingston Manor, NY. 12758











[1] The Inmate Exception and Reform of Correctional Health Care

Kevin Fiscella, MD, MPH,  Leo Beletsky, JD, MPH, and  Sarah E. Wakeman, MD


Saturday, August 14, 2021

Kratom and Harm Reduction

Kratom and Harm Reduction


“More than a decade in the making, America's opioid crisis has morphed from being driven by prescription drugs to one fueled by heroin and, increasingly, fentanyl. Drawing on historical lessons of the era of National Alcohol Prohibition highlights the unintended, but the predictable impact of supply-side interventions on the dynamics of illicit drug markets. Under the Iron Law of Prohibition, efforts to interrupt and suppress the illicit drug supply produce economic and logistical pressures favoring ever-more compact substitutes. This iatrogenic progression towards increasingly potent illicit drugs can be curtailed only through evidence-based harm reduction and demand reduction policies that acknowledge the structural determinants of health.”  Leo Beletsky

“Regardless of the specific facts about particular drugs, however, for more than 100 years, the main strategy America has used to deal with drug problems is prohibition. With the exception of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, nearly every substance that has publicly been associated with recreational use has either been banned entirely or strictly confined to medical use. Prohibition policy—such as the war on drugs—assumes that restricting drug sales and possession will solve the problem, period.” – Maia Szalavitz


Monday, July 12, 2021

Well Done CC Sabathia

 Reading this about CC Sabathia reminded me of something I wrote about him just after he entered rehab to confront his relationship with alcohol.  Thanks and well-done CC!

“On Labor Day of 1955, my family moved to New Jersey.  That October, as I walked to the school bus a neighbor stopped his truck, leaned out the window, and asked whom I was rooting for in the World Series, the Yankees or the Dodgers.  Nine years old, I tried to guess what answer would please Mr. Miller the most.  I guessed right.  Yankees!  Thus began a relationship that continues to this day, momentarily melancholy as it may be as I write after a playoff loss to the Astros.  As a boy growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, there were Octobers of great excitement and happiness as Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi, and all my other heroes walloped “Ballantine Blasts” out of Yankee Stadium, the House That Ruth Built – after beer baron Jacob Ruppert purchased the team.  Knickerbocker was the beer of the New York Giants and Schaefer a sponsor of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Schaefer sign on the Ebbets Field scoreboard would light up with an “H” or an “E” to help those scoring at the ballpark or at home.  Later the Mets arrived with Rheingold as their official beer.  

October was always a time to follow ballplayers in their joy and despair.  At least until October despair became trivial three years ago when our son and brother, William, succumbed to what proved to a fatal heroin overdose. That loss brought my wife and me to the Mall in Washington DC this October 4th.  We joined 30,000 other people from all across the country to participate in the Unite To Face Addiction rally.  The rally made history in part by declaring the event “The Day the Silence Ends.”  No more will any of us tolerate or accept secrecy, shame, and silence about the disease of addiction. Celebrities from all walks of life were there to share their stories of recovery, to reinforce the message that recovery is possible, and to speak out against the stigma of the disease.  We were reminded again and again that there are 23 million Americans in long-term recovery from alcoholism and substance use disorder.  Among those speaking was former Yankee (and yes, Dodger, Giant, and Met) Darryl Strawberry.  His struggles have been well documented, but there was Darryl looking fit and trim, speaking persuasively from the heart about his recovery and proud of the two recovery centers he has established.  A ballplayer offering a different kind of hope in October.  

Later, the rally included a photomontage of celebrities who lost their battle with addiction.  There was my boyhood hero, Mickey Mantle, bigger than life, again, taking one more swing on a giant screen.  

The following day was Advocacy Day.  Nearly 700 people from all over the country went to Capitol Hill to talk with Congressmen and Senators in the interest of making elected officials more aware and proactive in the fight against addiction in all its ghastly guises. We were part of the New York delegation that spent time being well received in Senator Chuck Schumer’s office.

As we gathered outside the office for a quick “team photo” and goodbyes, I checked my e-mail. There was a message from my friend Mark, also a Yankee fan and a bit of a baseball historian, letting me know that CC Sabathia had just entered an alcohol treatment program.

My mind went back to Mickey Mantle.  Then to Billy Martin.  The more I thought about it, the more Yankee names came up:  Dwight Gooden, Whitey Ford, Steve Howe, Jim Bouton, the Sultan of Swat himself, Babe Ruth, and once again, Darryl.  Men whose lives may have even been celebrated as real men who could drink hard and play hard at a time when there was less discrimination over a swing and a swig.  Men whose substance use was denied or protected, sometimes even by the sportswriters who sat at the bar with them. How many more Yankees are there I don’t even know about?  How many ballplayers all across the game?

Now there was one more.  But there is something different this time.  CC Sabathia is to be commended.  He’s not hiding.  To me, he’s a hero for saying, “It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right.”  No silence.  No shame. Just honesty in the first important step on what one hopes will be his road to recovery.  Honesty in making that first step more important than anything else in his life.  We owe him the same understanding and compassion we would offer him if he were dealing with any other life-threatening disease.  Not everyone believes that, of course.  Our culture remains primitive and judgmental when it comes to alcohol and substance use disorder.  Someday soon one hopes we see he is the kind of role model our kids need, a new kind of October champion.

CC is helping spread the message we heard on the Mall.  The silence needs to end.  The silence will end.  30,000 people were there to change the attitude of America about a dread disease. We will spread our message. We WILL prevail.  If we build it they will come.  Thanks for your help CC.  




Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Fighting Stigma

I’ve had two interviews with TRT World Now, a Turkish media outlet.  One in March of 2018 and one in June of 2021.   Both were arranged on relatively short notice.  Take a look at each.  NOT because of what I have to say, but because of the stock images they employ during each interview.  They recycle the same stereotypes; in fact, employ some of the same visuals in each segment.  If we are to have any constructive discussion about drug use and addiction, we need to climb through and beyond the bog of stigma that inhibits a broader, more compassionate understanding of how we deal with drugs in our society. My issue is not with TRT World Now in particular, though I don’t dismiss the idea that they may have an agenda.  Rather, they happen to be a striking example of what we still see far too often across all media.  Use these links to see what I mean.  2018 -  2021 -




Sunday, July 4, 2021

From The Episcopal New Yorker - 2017

I was invited to write about our story and our son, William's, death due to heroin.  Here's what I wrote:

It’s easy for me to think of prayer as a request for guidance or help or perhaps prayer offered as thanks.  I speak as one who does not exercise prayer in my day-to-day life, indeed as one who questions the power of prayer.  When I was a boy my godmother gave me a plaque, Albrecht Durer’s “Praying Hands”.  I still have it. Though it has been safely stored out of sight for decades now, I’ve not forgotten it.

 Four years ago, our son and brother, William, suffered an accidental heroin overdose. That was followed by six weeks of hospitalization, either heavily sedated or comatose, before it was clear he would never recover. We arranged organ donation (indeed were even with him in the operating room, watching as the tube that supported his breathing was removed). Unfortunately, once removed from life support, he did not expire within the short time frame necessary to harvest serviceable organs.  Rather he lasted another 21 hours before he died in our arms.  Determined that his death not be in vain we donated his body to Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons. To a person, the doctors that we asked about doing so commented on how important anatomy class was in their own development as physicians. The head of the program that "accepted" William (Getting a deceased 24-year-old into medical school, even as a cadaver, isn't as easy as you might think.) was emphatic that an anatomical donation could ultimately be even more important than an organ donation. Our donation was balm and comfort, as well as encouragement to follow my son when the time comes. 

Every year the first-year anatomy students at Columbia organize an Anatomy Memorial Service to express their gratitude for the donations that become the foundation of their medical education and to convey a sense of the impact donors’ gifts have on their education and their lives.  It is a beautiful service with student offerings of music, written and spoken tributes, observations offered by their faculty, and a chance for donor families to respond and offer their reflections and thanks.

So it was that in early April of 2014 we had the opportunity to remember and celebrate William along with all the other donors recognized.  Both at the time and as I’ve reflected since I’ve been struck by how often these budding doctors mentioned hands.  

One student wrote: “It was not at all a rare thing for me to overhear a classmate accidentally bumping against a cadaver and saying without thinking, ‘Oh! I’m sorry!’ Nor was there a day when I didn’t see a classmate’s hand resting – comfortingly, automatically – on the shoulder of a cadaver as we stood by their sides.  And on the day when we dissected the hand, I feel sure I cannot have been the only one who – before we began our work – furtively held our donor’s hand in a brief clasp of reassurance, squeezing it as if to say, ‘It’ll be alright,’ despite the fact that he was dead, in honor of the fact that he had once been alive.  I say all this to emphasize that the donors, although we didn’t know them, they were people nonetheless, and there was no way for us not to feel that.  The lab was a place of respect, and the donors taught us that.  In the presence of their generosity, there was no way not to feel awed.” 

Cadavers were honored donors.  The students, who worked in teams of four referred to them as their first patients.  “…my second encounter with the donor’s body left me feeling an array of confusing emotions.  For the first time, I saw his hands.  Hands that still had fingernails and hair on them.  Hands that reminded me of the hands I love to hold.  And I thought to myself, ‘This person had someone who loved him, and who held his hands.’ This simple and seemingly insignificant thought truly left me feeling quite inspired. It also emphasized the reality that this body was a living breathing person.  That realization serves for me as my first difficult moment in treating my very first patient.” 

 “The first day wasn’t as rough as I was anticipating. It wasn’t until the second dissection when I saw her pink and chipping nail polish that it really hit home.  The benefit of having such a personal experience in the lab is the sense of pure respect and admiration I feel for our donor.”

From another, “On the first day we met, as I held your hand and noticed the faded pink nail polish you wore, I wondered if, as you applied that once-shining coat, you knew it would be the last time you would do so.  And if so, were you afraid?  Or had you found peace in the limitations of our profession and the natural course of life and death?  I’d like to think that you received some solace in the knowledge that you would go on to guide my colleagues and me in our pursuit of medicine. And for that reason, I want to say thank you.  I have met you without us having ever exchanged a word.  As you have paid tribute to my scientific profession by the donation of who you once were, may I pay tribute to your life and death by reaching my fullest potential as a caregiver to others.” 

These words strike me like a prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer of hope, a devotion.  A statement of devotion. A prayer offered with the prayer giver’s full intention to make the prayer manifest. I like to think that our hands need not always be clasped to pray, as beautiful as Durer’s rendition is, but that the spirit of prayer enters the flesh of our hands as we attempt to mold hope and thanksgiving into reality, as we devote ourselves to that cause.         

The students’ memorial comments were also prayers of thanksgiving, though perhaps not directly intended as such. “I didn’t have a nameless, faceless empty vessel to examine every week; I was in the presence of a work of art, shaped by decades of experience and work.  The hands I explored looked nothing like the textbook because, unlike that picture, these hands had made music, done work, caressed loved ones….Years from now, if I am fortunate enough to donate my own body I hope another medical student is asked the same question.  And I hope she thinks the same thoughts.  What have these hands done?  And even though she may never know, the hands she explores, my hands will have (hopefully) eased the suffering of others:  all thanks to the hands, heart, and presence of another.  Thank you.”

One thing we’ll never know is how many times the hands these students studied were themselves clasped in prayer.  What guidance did they ask for?  What thanks did they offer?  Certainly, the very fact that those hands were in an anatomy lab made them an act of devotion.  

“Being a student in Anatomy and working with the bodies of real people, has inspired me to always remember that the gift of trust that patients place in their physicians is too precious to ever be expected or earned; it is simply a gift, always.”

With all my doubts, sparing as I am with prayer, I did send the doctors and nurses who cared for my boy William over those six long weeks a prayer I composed for my father’s memorial service.  A prayer thanking them for their devotion.  

            Dear God,

            We give thee thanks for all those who tend to the sick.

                        We thank thee for those who heal.

                        We thank thee for those who nurse.

                        We thank thee for those who counsel.

                        We thank thee for those who pray.


            Inspire their minds when they seek new answers firm their hands when their strength falters, lift up their hearts when hope seems faint, hear their prayers when they call to you.


            Grant that in their time of need they may receive as generously as they give, remembering always that through their time, their talent, and their tenderness do we see your love.



Prayer, for me, may be like that Durer plaque, tucked away but not completely forgotten. 





Saturday, July 3, 2021

Bill Williams on TRT World Now

At 9:00 on a late June/21 Monday night, I noticed a text on my cellphone. From a producer for TRT World, a Turkish version of BBC news that broadcasts here in the states. Based in DC. Would I be able to comment on NYS AG James' suit against pharma companies?
After re-downloading and updating Skype, which is all they use, getting a new password, arranging the "set" at home, and getting the camera angle set up via Istanbul, I went live at 10:22 last night. Sunburned, unshaven. Here's the link to my four minutes of Turkish fame.


A Father's Grief: Shaken From Silence When Pandemic Diverts Attention From Addiction

In December of 2020 I had the following essay published in Addiction and Drug Abuse Weekly. I share the text below 

By Bill Williams

Eight years ago Dec. 2, William, Williams’ son, died from an overdose. What follows is his story, beautifully told for ADAW. But it’s much more than his story. It’s the story of how one bereaved parent has moved on to advocacy for public health.

In early March, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted lives everywhere, but especially in New York City, my wife, Margot, and I fled our Manhattan apartment to our house in the rural Catskills. 

Spring dawdled and teased while we acclimated to seven lives — our children and grandchildren — covering a 75-year span under the same roof — eight lives counting Archie, the dog, who also made the trip from Chicago. 

Leaves finally budded. Archie patrolled the outdoors chasing after squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, deer, even treeing a mama bear while her cubs hid nearby. We dug potatoes in my garden, picked berries, cartwheeled, raced, and kicked balls on the lawn. We summered as a family, not always devoid of tension in close quarters, but safe, secure and often able to relish our time together. 

Out there, beyond us, COVID-19 continued to increase its toll, infecting victims and headlines in a world Zooms away. Blessedly, we all remained healthy.

COVID amnesia

For me, at least, caution and prudence stealthily seeded an unanticipated manifestation of the virus. Focusing heavily on COVID-19 invited a kind of amnesia, an intellectual and emotional disconnect from other important issues. Chief among them: the long-term drug epidemic besetting our nation.

My detachment began innocently enough with a cluster of precautions in early spring. A planned presentation to a group of doctors specializing in addiction medicine at a New York City hospital was sensibly changed from an in-person meeting to one online. An in-studio radio interview with a local Catskill station was postponed (no rescheduling as of this writing). Finally, the monthly program on addiction I hosted on a local public radio program was suspended in an effort (still continuing) to limit access to the station facility to a skeleton crew of paid staff. 

While on the surface sensible and benign, each adjustment resulted in less engagement with addiction issues: the exchange of ideas while not “on the air,” informal illuminating discussions and introductions to other valuable resources. There was no need to line up guests for a program that wasn’t airing. Practical, reasonable behavior centered on COVID-19 became a malaise of inattention when it came to addiction. 

Addiction’s presence

While my attention drifted away, addiction in America did not. Indeed, it persisted and found its way to my doorstep midsummer. It began with an online introduction to a man using theater to help spur on people in recovery — a man after my own heart. Even so, I was slow to follow up. Not being able to “find the right time” was a convenient excuse.

It took more direct contact to spur me on, to reinvigorate my spirit as an advocate. A friend asked if I’d be willing to talk to another father, a man grief-stricken that his son’s drug use might lead to imminent death. We talked on the phone several times. Mostly, I listened to a father terrified of losing his son — feeling helpless, feeling like he’d exhausted his resources both financially and emotionally, weeping unabashedly, seeking what comfort he might from a father who’d already lost his son. I told him how much I understood how he felt, what he was going through.  

What went unsaid, though we both knew it — my story had no happy ending to offer as consolation. 

An email late in September from a friend who is a long-standing, forceful advocate shook me. It shared the sudden loss of a family member who’d struggled with substance use for a long time. The circumstances were familiar: relapse after a period of sobriety, discovered at home but too late for Narcan or EMS to save. This was someone who gave the outward appearance of recovery but was sadly unable to resist the siren call of cravings. 

My son

Mid-October arrived, the annual reminder of the sequence of events that led to my son, William’s, fatal heroin use eight years ago. On a crisp, sunny fall morning, knowing his drug compulsion was endangering his life following numerous overdoses and hospitalizations, William packed a bag and went to the detox unit of a Manhattan hospital seeking admittance for inpatient detox. He detailed his injection of heroin, along with his use of benzodiazepines, marijuana and alcohol.  

Not much more than an hour after walking in the door, he was denied his request, his insurers determining that inpatient detox was “not medically necessary.” Four days later, William overdosed for the last time, lingering for six weeks, his brain irrevocably damaged before we removed him from life support.  

The media

Exactly on the anniversary of William’s denial, The Washington Post ran a headline — “The opioid crisis didn’t disappear amid the pandemic. It still calls for urgent action.” The article that followed was all too similar to articles I discovered before and after in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, and The Daily Beast. They all chronicled dire circumstances, including the following in no particular order:

§  diversion of personnel and resources from addiction services;

§  a reduction in services and service capacity;

§  increased drug use in the population at large;

§  an increase in deaths from overdose;

§  trends in the number of drug deaths heading upward again;

§  isolation and quarantine making it hard for people to have important person-to-person contact, or even to venture from home to obtain services they need;

§  an increase in homelessness and people living on the streets; and

§  people of color continuing to bear a particular burden.

There are surely more stark details to be added to this list. Clearly, however, there is sad irony in the fact that the closeness and connection that aid harm reduction and recovery run counter to the separation and distancing necessary to combat COVID-19.

No more silence

At least in some states, laws have changed. Change and progress have been such that were William to go to a hospital these days, he would not immediately be denied treatment and turned away. Under ordinary circumstances. But COVID-19 has disrupted progress and at least temporarily set us back to a time when obtaining effective treatment is again a daunting task.

My advocacy and my attention to the addiction epidemic lapsed as I responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, in response to the pandemic, we’ve suffered a relapse in our ability to reach, treat and support people, wherever they may be on the road to recovery. My fear is that we might suffer a collapse of that road, that we’ll need to go back to rebuild infrastructure, to replenish resources, to reinforce personnel. I fear the road to recovery will become a toll road, a toll paid in the deaths of those unable or not allowed to even set foot on that road.

When I write, I often do so in the quiet at the beginning of my day — alone and removed from distraction, with hours sometimes passing before I speak to anyone. When interrupted by a phone call or a late riser in the house, I often find I have to clear my throat before I speak. Too much time has passed saying nothing. When it comes to the drug epidemic, it is time for me to clear my throat and speak up again — louder, and more often if need be. Time to get back in action. Time to find new ways to start a conversation.



Bill Williams is a teacher and freelance writer.  Since the heroin overdose death of his son, William, Bill has written and spoken frequently about addiction. Reach him at