September 22, 2014
ORANGEBURG – Every alert — every buzz, every ring — from Jayne Read’s phone brings a surge of dread.”I think it’s going to tell me my daughter is dead,” she said. Read said her middle daughter, Carmen, is 23 years old and deep into heroin addiction. She is petite — 91 pounds and two inches shy of 5 feet tall — and has been living in an abandoned brick building in Newburgh. Boards cover its windows. Waist-high weeds separate it from the sidewalk.”If she died there, nobody would know,” she said. Read, a single mother who lives in Washingtonville and works as a paralegal in Orangeburg, has spent much of the last few years trying to get her daughter the inpatient care she needs. “When she’s herself, she’s incredible,” Read said of Carmen. “The greatest kid in the world.” Read said her daughter, burdened by a range of emotional issues, began abusing prescription drugs in high school. Later, a “bad boyfriend” introduced her to heroin. A stint in jail two years ago had little lasting effect. Nor did a combination of inpatient and outpatient care at Richard C. Ward Addiction Treatment Center in Middletown. Even after she overdosed in 2013 and medical crews used Narcan, a heroin antidote, to revive her, she went back to using, developing a habit that costs $100 a day to maintain.
Heroin: Treatment admissions on rise in the Hudson valley
Read has no illusions about how her daughter, who is unemployed, finds the money. “She tells me what she does to get the drugs,” she said, wiping away tears as she sat in a conference room in her office. The instances when Carmen surfaces to ask for her mother’s help are infrequent and unpredictable. Fleeting though they may be, those are the moments, Read said, when she feels she has the best chance to get her daughter off the street and into treatment. “When your children come to you and ask for help, they need it that second,” she said. Not counting private treatment facilities, there are 472 beds for detox and rehab treatment in Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties, according to the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. Despite that capacity and the eagerness of treatment providers to help — in interviews, representatives from Phoenix House, Putnam Family and Community Services, Arms Acres and other facilities in the area all said they bend over backward to find a place for people asking for care — obtaining that care has proven to be a difficult process for Read and her daughter. It’s a hard truth familiar to parents throughout the Hudson Valley, where heroin use, as it has in much of the country, has soared in recent years.
Heroin arrests in Putnam County, for example, have risen 300 percent over the last two years. In 2012, Westchester ranked among the top 10 counties in the state for opioid-related hospitalizations. It was designated a “high-intensity drug trafficking area,” qualifying it for federal aid. Rockland and Putnam have since applied for the designation, too. For Read, Carmen’s periodic pleas for help prompt a flurry of calls to treatment centers around the region. Those facilities that take her calls ask about insurance before anything else. When Read mentions Carmen’s Medicaid coverage, the conversation typically stops. Treatment providers acknowledged in conversations with The Journal News that insurance companies — and their policies about what they’ll pay for and what they won’t — often interfere with care. Meanwhile, the cost of private treatment, Read said, is out of reach. Inevitably, Carmen is drawn back to the street, back to the abandoned building in Newburgh.
It happened again in August. Carmen called her mother for help, and Read drove her to a hospital in Port Jervis. There, with Carmen sick from the effects of heroin withdrawal, a social worker told Read her daughter did not meet the criteria for inpatient treatment. So Read took her in, worried about how Carmen’s presence in the home would affect Read’s youngest daughter but desperate to keep Carmen from that decrepit building in Newburgh. It didn’t last. “Every moment that went by, the drug was pulling her. Two days later, she said, ‘Take me back. I give up.'”
Read drove her daughter back to Newburgh. After saying goodbye, she snapped a photo of her, in light-blue pants, her bleach-blond hair pulled into a ponytail, as she strode through the weeds toward the building. Weeks went by before Read got another late-night call from Carmen. Her boyfriend had just beaten her up. She needed help.
This time, their fortune changed: On Sept. 6, Arms Acres, a 162-bed facility in Carmel, took Carmen in. Medicaid agreed to pay for three days of detoxification treatment. A subsequent 28-day stay was arranged but later reduced to 14 days. Read cited the limitations of Carmen’s insurance coverage as the reason for shortening — by half — her stay. “She wants this so badly,” Read said. “She’s got a fighting chance.” For the moment, with her daughter in care, Read no longer jumps when her phone rings. She doesn’t live in constant fear. “I can breathe again,” she said.