Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez (at right, with Rose Hill Program Director, Tina Buckley) of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), recently visited St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers’ Rose Hill Adolescent Residential Addiction Treatment Program in Massena.
Rose Hill is named after Rose Wilson, the leader of a group of community activists who realized the need for an addiction treatment facility for adolescents and their families. In 1988, Ms. Wilson, who had a strong personal connection with then Governor Mario Cuomo, appealed to the Governor for funding and received a grant to begin the program. Today, Rose Hill has 42 staff and support personnel, and the capacity to care for 28 residents between the ages of 12 and 20.
Commissioner González-Sánchez, who was appointed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, is responsible for overseeing all of New York’s State-funded addiction treatment agencies. And in a state with a population of nearly 20 million, she has the opportunity to meet with a lot of New Yorkers.
Her purpose at Rose Hill was to tour the facility to learn more about the agency’s mission, but she perhaps learned the most by speaking with and listening to the program’s young clients, including Will, a 19-year-old nearing program completion, 18-year-old Jenny, just 30 days in treatment, and 20-year-old Stacey who had been with the program for two months.
Asked what Will’s goals were upon leaving Rose Hill, he replied without hesitation, “I’m returning to college, and establishing a support network.” He paused for a moment and added, “And getting back with my family. Home used to be a toxic environment for me, but now I’m really excited to be getting back to them. My parents have been real troupers through all of this.”
“Addiction is a family disease,” the Commissioner continued. “It is intergenerational, and we’re seeing more of it.”
And the consequences are now more dire than perhaps in any time in our country’s history. In 2017 alone, according to The New York Times, 72,000 Americans died of heroin or opioid overdose, an increase of 10% over 2016, and more than all US military lost in the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghan conflicts, combined.
The Commissioner then sked, “When you leave here, what is it that will help you maintain your sobriety?”
“I’ll definitely need to go to AA meetings,” Will continued. “I used to think that just talking was a waste of time, but now that I’m in touch with my emotions and am working through them, talking helps a lot. And, before coming here, I’d never heard about a relapse prevention plan, or knew what my triggers are.”
“Also, the Clubhouse is great. I love the Clubhouse,” he added referring to OASAS’s community-based, non-clinical setting for promoting long-term recovery for young people. Youth Clubhouse participants have the opportunity to learn employment skills, receive help with school work, and participate in recreational activities, in a safe, sober environment.
“The youth clubhouses are a new idea,” the Commissioner agreed. “It’s all about supporting each other without the treatment piece, and we hope to replicate the model.”
Patricia Zuber-Wilson, OASAS’s Director of the Office of Government Affairs, who was travelling with the Commissioner, asked “If you could advise the Commissioner about what would help with prevention, what would it be?”
Stacy nodded her head and answered, “I’ve never had structure or stability until coming here. That’s really important.”
“I also now have to think about what I have to lose,” said Will. “You know, one hour of fun could put my life back in the gutter.”
“I was using to cope with my depression,” Will offered. “Me too”, Jenny added as if to say that the identification of mental health challenges, and the reluctance of people to seek help, are vital to not beginning substance use.
“There is stigma attached to addiction” (and co-occurring mental illness), the Commissioner agreed. “And we’re putting our focus on multiple programs to educate the public that addiction is similar to other treatable conditions, such as high blood pressure, or diabetes. Little by little people are opening up to this fact.”
To assist communities embracing the understanding that addiction is treatable, OASAS produced a new documentary, “Reversing the Stigma”, featuring multiple New Yorkers in various stages of recovery who share their stories and experiences. The film is being shown throughout the State in a variety of community venues.
Asked if the young residents had any concluding thoughts, Jenny shared, “I started out with heroin and lost my home, my boyfriend, and my job. But now I’m here, and I’m really positive. This place is the best.”