Schenectady County

Grant will help New Choices extend treatment for addictions

A $100,000 state grant will help New Choices Recovery Center create a demonstration project for redu

After heroin addicts finish treatment, life gets much harder.

They have to re-enter society sober, without turning to heroin or prescription painkillers to smooth the way.

While many succeed, many others fail, said New Choices Recovery Center Executive Director Stuart Rosenblatt.

“It’s quite honestly a crapshoot,” he said. “Once we discharge them, we’re basically in the position of keeping our fingers crossed.”

Until now, the treatment center could not use its funding to send help to discharged patients. So when recovering addicts couldn’t bring themselves to go to support group meetings, or felt too ashamed to seek mental health treatment, New Choices couldn’t help.

All that changed Thursday with a $100,000 state grant to create a demonstration project for reducing the relapse rate among discharged patients.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, submitted a request for New Choices to receive the grant, and the center became the first in the Capital Region to offer new services for discharged patients.

“Today we’re taking a positive and substantial step towards curbing the alarming rise of drug abuse in the Capital Region. This program is a smart and comprehensive way to make sure that people who seek drug treatment don’t relapse and are able to maintain productive lives,” Santabarbara said.

New case managers will ensure that discharged patients keep up with their appointments for mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, job training and other tasks.

Recovery coaches — former addicts who have remained sober for years — will escort patients to doctor appointments, Narcotics Anonymous meetings and other settings where the patient might not go alone.

“There’s a lot of shame,” Rosenblatt said. “Most of our patients, for a variety of reasons, may not want to show up for a doctor appointment.”

The coach can also help them re-acclimate, “to help them re-establish themselves, clean and sober,” he said.

An employment specialist will be hired to develop connections with local businesses and persuade them to hire recovering addicts. That specialist can also do on-the-job coaching.

Support will continue for “upwards of nine months” after discharge, Rosenblatt said. He’s confident it will have a big impact.

“It will reduce relapse rates,” he said.

The state will be watching. The grant is designed to test new initiatives to respond to an increase in heroin and painkiller addiction.

“They’re going to want to see how we fare,” Rosenblatt said, adding that he would track outcomes in expectation of making a full report to the state in the next year or two.

Heroin and painkiller addiction have received more attention in recent years as the state cracked down on the misuse of painkillers. That led more addicts to switch to heroin — which is cheaper and now easier to obtain than painkillers.

The issue took off in 2013, when the state started using a database updated in real time by pharmacists and doctors to thwart attempts by addicts to get multiple prescriptions written by different doctors. Addicts often went to various emergency rooms or urgent care centers to report fake injuries, trying to get more painkillers.

In Schenectady County, the number of heroin and painkiller addiction admissions increased by 116 percent in the past decade. About 20 percent of the addicts in treatment at New Choices are addicted to painkillers or heroin.

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