Penny emailed me and said, I met this guy, he’s the real deal. His name is Chris Arnade, he writes for The Guardian and he wants to know what’s happening in our area.
I was having a particularly rough and down week emotionally. I know the scale of The Guardian and I was familiar of Chris’ work, but I wondered if I could muster the energy to leave the house for yet one more meeting that week. He contacted me before I had a chance to reach out to him and asked about getting together to talk over the weekend. We decided to meet for coffee on a Saturday morning.
I did my typical, got up and had coffee at home. Got on the computer and got lost. Before I knew it, it was past time to go see him and I hadn’t even showered. I threw on a headband and clothes, half washed my face, put on some moisturizer and deodorant and raced to Binghamton. On my way there, I attempted to text him to let him know I was running late and realized I failed to pay my cell phone bill and my phone was shut off. I almost turned around and went home.
Here I was, leaving the house when I didn’t want to, a phone not working because I didn’t pay the bill, unshowered – all evidence of the depression I had sunk into heading to meet a nationally known writer to talk about a topic that I am passionate about and yet, adds to my sadness.
I hoped as I always do, that we would be talking about Truth Pharm. Talking about the problem at large. Talking about the thousands lost, the millions struggling.
I got there and found him quickly. I was beyond ‘fashionably late’ and he was immediately forgiving. He appeared to be as far behind in showering as I was and I settled down.
He immediately started his interview – all about my personal life. Right from the beginning of my life and I felt uneasy. Why about me? I even asked him. I have so little to do with this. But, he was so genuine, I got the impression that he is like me, he simply loves to know every element of a person – and their entire life’s story. So, there I sat, telling him my story from the time of being a child to the point of losing my own child. He took a few notes. He picked up on my depression and asked about it. He loved that I was an engineer said I should get back to building bridges. A couple hours later, he said he was going for a walk and I was heading home. All the way home, I wished I had stayed. There was just something about him. I could have hung out with him for days, I’m certain.
As I waited the weeks following for his story to come out, I became increasingly anxious. We talked about so much over the course of those two hours, I wondered in the end, what the story would be about. We stayed in contact via twitter and when the story came out, he asked, “Was I fair?” Yes, Chris, you were fair. Thank you.
Read Penny’s and my story here in Chris’ article.
I am honored to be in a story alongside Penny Stringfield and honored our boys, Jeff Dugon and Johny Stringfield share their stories on a page.
Photos by Chris Arnade.
What a great experience to be interviewed by Susan Arbetter on the Capitol Pressroom in Albany. I’ve been a long time fan and after being interviewed by her, I realized why her show is so great. She’s an amazing interviewer. She is personable, caring, compassionate and incredibly well prepared for her interviews. She knows how to keep things moving without making you feel rushed and she helps ensure you get to make the point you were there to make.
I can’t wait to go back!
Listen to the interview here.
Alexis Pleus of Truth Pharm provides oral testimony at New York State Heroin Task Force in Penn Yan, NY
We are visiting Albany to advocate for policy change on May 3rd, May 10th and May 11th.
It is very important that our political leaders hear from us and the struggles we face with finding treatment and having it be affordable and/or approved by our insurance.
Here is our agenda for advocacy for 2016:
Advocacy Agenda for 2016
New York State is not immune to the opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing our country which has progressed now to a crisis. While we have been ahead of the curve on implementation of some important issues such as the Good Samaritan Law and Naloxone access, we remain behind in health parity and treatment access.
As an advocacy organization, we are reminded daily of the many obstacles people seeking help encounter. Here is the typical sequence of events experienced by an individual who has said “I want help”:
- They don’t know where to turn and often go to the Emergency Room. Emergency Rooms do not admit for detox, do not transfer patients to detox, rarely line up treatment appointments and often do not give information regarding access to treatment or evaluations.
- The individual attempts to schedule an evaluation. The wait time for evaluation appointments in NY varies widely, from 2 days to 5 weeks.
- They are most often referred to outpatient treatment, which is known to have a 90% relapse rate.
- Co-pays for outpatient treatment are a huge financial burden. One mother recently reported her son was remanded to intensive outpatient treatment 5 days per week. With private insurance, the co-pay is $40 per visit. At $200/week the bill is higher than her mortgage and electric bill combined.
- If the person goes to inpatient treatment, there is little information about what the facility offers or provides. Many people report arriving at a facility only to be told ‘you need to detox first’ or the opposite ‘you don’t have enough drugs in your system’. One family said a treatment facility employee suggested the parents take their son to make a purchase so he could shoot up and then he could be admitted.
- If they are admitted for detox, few facilities are offering medically assisted humane detox. Even those that are providing it are often saying the person is ‘done detoxing’ after 2-3 days. We had one gentleman told he was ‘done’ less than 48 hours after being admitted.
- If the treatment center finds out Medicaid or the insurance will not pay for the stay, the person is immediately asked to leave with no taper from the Suboxone they were started on and no direct link to their next service provider.
- For inpatient treatment, insurers in New York are typically only approving 7-14 days of treatment. The average seems to hover around 9 to 10 days. We have not heard of a single family with private insurance or Medicaid that has been provided over 21 days at an inpatient facility.
- There are families losing loved ones while they wait for treatment.
Though we believe a multi-faceted approach will ultimately be necessary to conquer this epidemic, nothing is more important than saving those who are desperate for help now. We need our state government to take emergency measures to address those suffering and asking for help now.
Thank you for your time and also offer our help. If you need someone to speak at a hearing, provide testimony or advocate to your colleagues, please call on us. We will help.
We need the following emergency measures:
- Same day evaluations for those seeking help.
- A treatment protocol for persons taken to the emergency room after an overdose. Attached as “Best Practices for Medical Providers.
- Immediate access to treatment or a hospital stay until treatment is available.
- Humane, medical detox.
- Insurers MUST be required to pay for the type and length of treatment known to be effective. Anyone seeking opioid addiction treatment should be granted 90 days of inpatient treatment at a minimum.
- New York State must increase the reimbursement rates so that treatment centers can open and operate here.
- A one call system.
These bills would offer a high impact with low cost to New York and are non-controversial:
- Require all first responders, fire and police to carry Naloxone.
- Require hospitals to provide persons who have overdosed and any support person with them with Naloxone training as well as a kit to take home.
- Require all treatment facilities, outpatient clinics and residential facilities:
- to have all staff trained in the administration of Naloxone and to have Naloxone on premises;
- to follow up after discharge at 14, 30, 60 and 90 days to determine relapse rates and report these statistics to OASAS;
- to provide patient and support persons with Naloxone training as well as a kit to take home upon discharge.
The following bills will have a significant impact on the epidemic:
|S6478A/ A9211||Requires insurance companies to provide at least ninety days of rehabilitation services to an insured upon a doctor’s prescription||Senator Ritchie/ Assemblyman Stirpe|
|S651||Relates to continuing medical education requirements for doctors, nurses and pharmacists; requires three hours of training on the prevention, treatment and mitigation of opiate analgesics and psychotropic drug addiction.||Senator Kennedy|
|S647||Requires the department to draft guidelines for the transition of patients from substances with a high risk of addiction to those with a low risk.||Senator Kennedy|
|S660||Requires disclosure of addiction risks for certain prescription drugs; requires physicians, nurses and pharmacists to provide information on prevention, mitigation and treatment of prescription drug addiction and to have the patient sign a form acknowledging education of such risks.||Senator Kennedy|
2/1/16 – Alexis attended the Community Foundation of South Central, NY grant workshop.
2/3/16 – Received our formal letter from the IRS approving our 501c3.
2/4/16 – Met with Pat Raube, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Endicott regarding the rectory that may be vacated soon. Pat is interested in utilizing the house for something the community needs. We discussed the idea of the Flight House which she was excited by the prospect of. She will be performing a community needs assessment and will also be discussing with church members.
2/4/16 – Very excited a volunteer, Donna Wood-Craig has officially accepted the position of Truth Pharm’s Angel Volunteer Coordinator for the Oxford Police Department’s Road to Recovery Program.
2/8/16 – Had a phone interview with Michael King, Director of Outreach for Facing Addiction, the national organization for a position on their national outreach committee.
2/8/16 – Truth Pharm Board of Directors Meeting – Penny Stringfield, Rusty Griffiths, Tom Jackson and Alexis Pleus in attendance.
2/8/16 – Truth Pharm Volunteer meeting with 16 in attendance to discuss news, fundraising, grants and Amy Cruz’s “The Wings Project” proposal.
2/9/16 – Contacted by District Attorney Steve Cornwell to assist with this new Operation SAFE Program. He’s in need of volunteers to make calls for treatment placement and would like to partner with Truth Pharm.
2/11/16 – Dataflow donated all the printing services for our awareness event in Hancock.
2/11/16 – Amy Cruz attended Yvonne Lucia’s open house for her creative grief works open house.
2/12/16 – Several Truth Pharm Rainmakers attended the training session at District Attorney Steve Cornwell’s office to be trained in making phone calls for treatment placement through Operation SAFE.
Political Advocacy (harvesting results):
2/2/16 – Alexis participated in a live teleconference with Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House and Richard Frank, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding Obama’s announcement earlier in the day of $1.1 billion in 2017 budget.
2/2/16 – Blog post regarding our visit with Donna Lupardo and our plans to work together. Donna Lupardo has stayed in touch over the past two weeks sending us articles we may be interested in.
2/4/16 – Interviewed by WICZ to comment on the NY Bed Availability Dashboard announced by Governor Cuomo 1/31/16.
2/9/16 – Met with Michal Kirsch, retired pediatrician to discuss my idea of requesting an executive order of the president and governor. He believes my assessment of the current situation is accurate and he is willing to proof read and help provide supporting data.
2/9/16 – Wrote to Governor Cuomo’s office regarding the Bed Availability Dashboard and the inaccurate information provided in addition to the fact that it is not being updated.
2/10/16 – Assemblyman Cliff Crouch attended our Awareness Event in Hancock, NY. Thank you Assemblyman Crouch!
2/11/16 – Received exciting news from Senator Thomas O’Mara’s office that we have been selected to provide oral testimony at the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction Roundtable in Penn Yan on 2/23/16.
2/1/16 – Met with Hancock representative from the Mayor’s office, Police Chief, Fire Chief and Director of Ambulance Services to discuss systems in place. Police are carrying Naloxone. Ambulance services is an advanced life support agency, so they have it as well. The fire department is currently working on registering and carrying. The police chief has inquired in the past about having a prescription drop box and offered that he would look into it further. We suggested they might want to contact Walgreens which is moving into the Rite Aid store soon because they are supposed to have prescription drop boxes to let them know there is a need. The Mayor’s office offered to provide a robocall regarding our event next week. We’ll send them the data. It was suggested we contact the Hancock Telephone Company to have an announcement played during the weather.
2/1/16 – Directed an Oxford woman to free Naloxone training at STAP via an email inquiry from her and she got trained and got a kit.
2/3/16 – Interviewed by Don Mathisen of WIOX radio an NPR station in Roxbury, NY. The program will air next week.
2/5/16 – Met with Sarah at the Volunteers of America shelter in Binghamton. She would like Truth Pharm to provide awareness education for her staff.
2/7/16 – Met with Kim Myers to present our Best Practices for Hospitals and Medical Providers. Kim will be presenting this to the CEO and members of the board of directors at Lourdes. We also discussed The Flight House and Kim is interested in assisting with fundraising if we move forward with the project. She asked that we prepare a program outline, determine zoning requirements, get insurance quotes and operating expenses.
2/8/16 – Wrote “Framing an Overdose” about a boy, Dajen Edwards who died of an overdose in Binghamton on 2/6/16.
2/9/16 – Alexis, Dannielle Swart and Al Roberts attended the WSKG community Conversation on the Heroin Epidemic.
2/10/16 – Rainmaker Dannielle Swart attended the Community Awareness event in Sidney, NY.
2/11/16 – Held our first Awareness Event for our Community Response Plan in Hancock, NY. Was very well received with about 70 people in attendance and excellent media coverage including the Kingfisher Project, WICZ, The Walton Reporter and the Hancock Herald. Assemblyman Cliff Crouch surprised us and came and spoke for a short time to give a summary of his efforts on this issue.
2/11/16 – News story by WICZ about the Awareness Event in Hancock, NY.
2/12/16 – Met with Melissa Martin at the counseling center at SUNY Broome to discuss ways we can partner together. She will invite us to provide some awareness information at upcoming common hour programs.
36 facebook posts of news articles, research reports, political advocacy, 8 awareness or fundraising events, 1 Memorials to lost loved ones, 3 stories of recovery, 7 pictures or blog posts, 2 memes. Over 87,000 people reached through posts. Over 800 shares. Now 2443 “Likes” on public facebook page. 135 followers on Twitter. 11 loved ones added to the Map of Lost Loved Ones.
Treatment Access, Recovery and Support for Individuals and Families (growing recoverees):
2/3/16 – Helped send a gal to long term treatment out of the state.
2/4/16 – Visited a 20 year old young man at the Broome County Jail per his family’s request and because he is a friend of our family to see if he’s interested in treatment. He is, so we contacted the District Attorney. We also told the family to write letters on his behalf to the judge, the DA and the Public Defender.
2/4/16 – A mother contacted us 2/2/16 – she took her daughter to Binghamton General after learning she was a heroin addict and she (the daughter) wanted detox. The hospital did not keep her. Sent her home after a couple hours and suggested he call New Horizons for an evaluation which would take several days to get. 2/3/16 we emailed her and let her know to take her daughter for a fast track appointment (She was never told about this possibility). She could not get her daughter going until late morning – New Horizons told her it was too late for a fast track appointment. The same day she had extreme anxiety and pain as she was trying to detox herself at home. The mother took her to the ER again and again they sent her home. 2/4/16 Truth Pharm got long term treatment lined up out of town young woman (20 years) who was willing and anxious to go. The mother took her to the New Horizons fast track evaluation hoping she could at least get detox until she went to long term treatment. New Horizons discouraged the daughter from leaving the area for long term treatment and instead offered her 14 days of inpatient treatment and suggested afterwards, she could attend New Horizons outpatient treatment while staying at Fairview. The daughter accepted the offer.
2/9/16 – Spoke to a young man about his options. He had a warrant for his arrest. He decided to turn himself in and we told him we would contact the DA for him which we did. The DA said he will advocate for drug court for him and to have his mom write to his assigned counsel and the ADA and ask for the same. We explained to the DA this young man truly needs long term treatment to start. He said that can be arranged and for the family to advocate for it.
2/10/16 – Helped a 22 year old Broome County gentleman get a bad at Syracuse Behavioral Health. He was not able or willing to leave the area for treatment, so opted for local. We checked the bed availability dashboard which listed 5 beds for medical detox at Syracuse Behavioral Health. They did a phone screening and said he qualified for treatment, but then told him it would be a three week wait. We contacted them to ask why a 3 week wait when the Dashboard listed 5 beds. We were contacted shortly after and told a bed ‘opened up’ and he could be admitted the next day. He planned to go for as long as they would keep him. Once he got there they said actually, insurance won’t cover your stay because ‘it’s elective’ to be detoxed, so you’ll have to pay $400 per day out of pocket. He decided to stay anyways. He stayed 26 hours and said the staff had such bad attitudes and treated everyone like second class citizens, he could not take the mistreatment and left. He said 90% of the people there are court mandated and the staff treat the patients poorly.
2/11/16 – Received an update from a Syracuse mom who originally contacted us 1/17/16. Her son was notified he is 1 – 2 weeks away from a bed at St. Christopher’s. Almost 4 weeks’ wait time for treatment because he does not have private insurance.
2/12/16 – Got treatment lined up for gentleman who was housed with Opportunities for Broome who requested help with the District Attorney’s program, but they could not find treatment for him quickly enough. Discussed with volunteer who was working on placement from DA’s side as well as the DA who said to go ahead and start a fundraiser and the DA’s office would help spread the word. 2/12/16 started the fundraiser for 55 year old gentleman to go to treatment, lined up detox for him in Long Island. 2/13/16 picked the gentleman up and took him to the bus station to go to Long Island to be admitted into the medical detox program there.
2/12/16 – Had several rainmakers attend the District Attorney’s call for help meeting for his SAFE Program.
Broome County Losses:
2/6/16 – We learned of a 22 year old young man who had just finished New Horizons inpatient treatment and was staying at Fairview who relapsed and was to return to ACC. He chose not to go in and overdosed that night. He did not make it. Rest in peace young man.
2/11/16 – A 26 year old young man lost his life to an overdose. He was a father of two children.
“Anything that involves further criminalizing within this epidemic is time wasted,” Truth Pharm founder Alexis Pleus said. “We really need our government to look at a very aggressive, proactive approach for this epidemic.”
See the report here.
Alexis Pleus lost her son to a heroin overdose last year.
She says along with helping addicts find treatment, society must eliminate the negative stigma attached to addiction to help encourage users to seek help.
“When Jeff passed away, I learned within 24 hours that I didn’t want to tell anyone how he had died because of the way people treated me,” said Pleus. “I started Truth Pharm. We want to work on reducing the stigma, which is really important to me because the less we judge people who have addictions, the more likely they are to reach out for help.”
Truth Pharm hopes to assist the sheriff’s office to get the Angels program rolling — but there are some road blocks.
“As soon as the bed spaces come up, I think we’ll be in good order then,” said Harder.
When Action News asked if the Angels Program could happen in the county without more inpatient centers opening locally, Harder said he wasn’t sure.
“Good question,” he said. “I don’t know yet.”
Harder has ideas of where to build a new treatment facility.
“They want to close down the Broome Developmental Center, why not make that a treatment center?” said Harder. “You’ve got the state hospital, why not go into a treatment center for there? The big thing is cost. That’s what’s holding the whole thing up it seems.”
Pleus said the county could look at the heroin epidemic as an opportunity to lead.
“Rather than being upset that we have an epidemic or upset that we have this addiction crisis, we could be the county that’s looked on positively by putting money into the issue, trying to get people that are addicted treatment, trying to turn this epidemic around, and showing care and love,” said Pleus. “It doesn’t have to be negative, it could be positive.”
See the full report By Julianne Peixoto here.