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Gillibrand, on LI, announces new legislation in fight against addiction

On Friday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced new legislation that would provide families with the tools they need to support their loved ones living with addiction to opioids and alcohol.  Credit: Barry Sloan

Sasha Kanter was spiraling — her addiction to heroin and opioids reaching rock bottom.

Kanter's parents frantically got Sasha, now 25, into a detox facility, but their insurance company refused to provide more than two weeks of coverage. Sasha's father, Robert Kanter, himself a recovering drug addict with knowledge of the system, was able to successfully appeal to the insurance company and get his daughter the full 28 days of detox coverage.

But Robert Kanter, 60, of Great Neck, said many other families suffering with addiction are not as lucky. 

"Without my knowledge and resources, she could have been back out on the streets and may not be alive," he said of Sasha, who is now 18 months sober and in college in Connecticut.

On Friday, Robert Kanter joined with addiction specialists and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand as the lawmaker announced new legislation that would provide families with the tools needed to help loved ones facing addiction to opioids and alcohol.

The Family Support Services for Addiction Act would provide $25 million in federal grant funding over five years to help nonprofits and community organizations provide support services to families with loved ones seeking addiction treatment.

"When someone gets diagnosed with cancer or diabetes, there is the support and resources available for community members," Gillibrand said at a news conference at Thrive in Hauppauge, Long Island’s first recovery community and outreach center. "But for substance disorder there is often significant stigmas which make it hard to seek community support."

While organizations across the country help family members affected by drug addiction, those services typically receive minimal federal support, are often not covered by insurance and generally come at additional costs to families, Gillibrand said.

The grants, which would be administered through the Department of Health and Human Services, would provide funds to groups that provide caregiver peer support, education, training, referrals, counseling and assistance in navigating the complicated treatment system, Gillibrand said. 

"Studies show that when families are involved, loved ones are more likely to stay in treatment and have better recovery outcomes," Gillibrand said. 

The bill is co-sponsored Sen. Shelley  Moore Capito (R-W.V.) and was introduced in the House by Reps. David Trone  (D-Md.) and Dan Meuser  (R-Pa.).

"Addiction is a family disease that requires a comprehensive family support system if we are going to come out the other side of this modern-day crisis," said Jeffrey Reynolds, president of the Mineola-based nonprofit Family and Children’s Association, which provides outpatient drug rehabilitation and counseling.

Opioid-related deaths have dipped dramatically in Suffolk County over the past year, according to a report that tracks overdoses and deaths.

The Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel reported last week that opioid deaths were projected to number as many as 283 in 2019 — a 25% drop from the 2018 tally of 380.

Nassau officials have said 147 people died from overdoses in 2018, a 20% decline compared to 184 fatal overdoses in 2017, according to the county's most recent data.

Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said family support is one of the keys to kicking addiction.

"This is not incongruent with how we treat families dealing with cancer or dementia or Alzheimer's," Chassman said. "This is a debilitating illness that destroys individual lives, family lives, and of course, as we've seen regrettably, communities."

Kanter called Gillibrand's legislation "critical" to addressing the opioid epidemic. 

"Family involvement for an addict can be the difference between life and death," he said. "Because if the family doesn't support them, and they don't turn to their family and work with them, they turn to the streets and their family becomes the other drug addicts."

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