From the New York State
Assembly Committee on

Alcoholism and
Drug Abuse

Sheldon Silver, Speaker • Jeffrey Dinowitz, Chair • January 2004

Message from the Chair
Dear Friends:

As we begin the new legislative session, it is clear that we will face another difficult fiscal year. With a large budget deficit looming, we will need to find innovative ways to prevent huge budget cuts. While we must continue the fight to protect education, higher education and health care, we must not lose sight of other important parts of the budget. Funding for substance abuse prevention and treatment is money well spent that pays back large dividends.

This past year, my first as Chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, was a learning experience. Our committee held two hearings during the past several months — one on the growing heroin epidemic, the other on co-occurring disorders. Both hearings brought many important facts to light that hopefully will enable us to more successfully address these two very important problems. In addition, I visited many substance abuse treatment programs, both upstate and downstate. I saw many people trying to turn their lives around, and the hardworking and often underpaid staff that work with them.

In the coming year we will attempt to address many other important issues. We will also make every effort to ensure that the dollars are available to get the job done. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers — alcohol and drug abusers as well as their families — are impacted by what we do in Albany in the area of alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment. Let’s make 2004 a year when we can say that we truly had an impact in helping to turn around the lives of many of these New Yorkers.


Jeffrey Dinowitz, Chairman
Committee on Alcoholism
and Drug Abuse

Assemblyman Dinowitz is pictured opening a forum on “Barriers of Substance Abuse Treatment in the Asian American Community” at Asian American Recovery Services of Hamilton Madison-House. To read more about this forum, see “Assemblyman Dinowitz Kicks Off National Recovery Month...”.

Assemblyman Dinowitz Kicks Off National Recovery Month at Asian American Recovery Services

Assemblyman Dinowitz, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, kicked off National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery month in September with a visit to Asian American Recovery Services (AARS) of Hamilton-Madison House located in downtown Manhattan. AARS held a community forum on “Barriers and Challenges of Substance Abuse Treatment in the Asian American Community.” AARS is one of two agencies providing specialized services for Asian Americans. As an outpatient program, AARS provides an array of services including detox, family and group counseling, and DWI treatment and evaluation.

In opening the forum, Chairman Dinowitz emphasized that treatment geared toward specific populations is necessary. “The topic of this forum is an important one, since there is only a small percentage of the Asian population who abuses alcohol and drugs that seek and get treatment. I commend May Lai and her staff for what they do; having chemical dependency professionals who speak the language and know the cultural cues of their population greatly increases the likelihood of treatment success.”

The forum focused on the barriers and differences in providing treatment for Asian Americans. For example, attitudes among Asian Americans toward alcohol and substance abuse are permissive when moderate and in times of ceremonial occasions, but outwardly drunken behavior is a source of shame and not tolerated. According to speakers at the forum, this sence of shame coupled with language barriers and an intense stigma of treatment make entering recovery programs very difficult for many Asian Americans. Thus the professional staff’s proficiency in many languages and awareness of differing cultures within the Asian American population make Asian American Recovery Services a valuable resource in the field of alcoholism and drug addiction.

Committee Outlook for 2004

Upon commencement of the new year, the committee is gearing up for what will undoubtedly be a highly contentious 2004 legislative session. There will be difficult budget times ahead, so it’s essential to remind New Yorkers that the committee will be working hard in the new year to combat substance abuse in our communities. Alcoholism and substance abuse are in themselves among the most serious problems facing society today; but beyond their inherent seriousness, they are linked to almost every other social problem, including domestic violence, homelessness, AIDS, crime, disease, child abuse and neglect, teen pregnancy, and chronic welfare dependence. It is our government which faces every day the tasks of moving people from welfare to work, reshaping our corrections system, dealing with child abuse and neglect, assuring public safety, administering mental health programs, and overseeing the process of educating our state’s children. To be successful, all governmental leaders must accept the reality that if we don’t adequately treat alcoholism and drug addiction, then all other efforts will be less effective. The committee will continue to work hard in the new year to see to it that our efforts are successful.

One of the most pressing issues for the upcoming session will be the continuing fiscal struggles gripping New York State, and the impact the crisis will have on the state’s alcoholism and substance abuse treatment and prevention providers. With a deficit of several billion dollars projected for the state, the governor seems to be seeking to cut the already bare-bones budget of the state’s substance abuse service providers. Despite the success of OASAS-licensed drug treatment and the importance the public places on the issue of substance abuse and the toll it takes on our families and communities, the governor chooses once again to inadequately fund OASAS in the coming year. The Governor’s annual, regrettable decision to punitively limit funds earmarked for the agency responsible for overseeing the availability and quality of substance abuse treatment programs clearly indicates a less than adequate commitment to lessening the terrible impact that alcoholism and substance abuse has on New York. Under the leadership of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Assembly has been instrumental in providing much-needed funding for treatment and prevention programs across the state. In the upcoming year the committee will again be at the forefront of the Assembly’s battle to do the right thing for New Yorkers suffering the torment of addiction.

The 2004 legislative session holds great promise for the substance abuse treatment and prevention field. Despite deficits, it is hoped that the budget will provide increased funding for OASAS and for the community-based programs that provide critical services in our communities. In order to create a dedicated fund for treatment services, the committee will continue to advocate for the “Penny-a-Beer” proposal advanced during the 2003 legislative session. This program would raise the tax on beer a mere one cent per can or bottle, where the proceeds could be earmarked for the cash-strapped treatment system. Securing insurance parity for substance abuse treatment also remains a key priority for the Committee, as does ensuring that compulsive gambling programs are funded adequately as New York State vastly increases its stake in legal gambling. Reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, stalled in 2001, 2002 and 2003, is likely to return as an important issue related to substance abusers and their families and advocates. The committee hopes to become more involved with this critical issue in the year ahead.

Assemblyman Dinowitz Hosts OASAS Commissioner Gorman in the Bronx

Assemblyman Dinowitz, OASAS Commissioner Gorman and Sandra Ruiz Butter, Executive Director of VIP Services, during a tour of several facilities of VIP Services in the Bronx.

Assemblyman Dinowitz was pleased to host the new OASAS Commissioner, William Gorman, for a tour of several treatment centers in the Bronx. Each visit brought the Commissioner to a different type of treatment facility, highlighting both the dedication to treatment in the Bronx for alcohol and drugs as well as crucial issues facing the treatment field.

Assemblyman Dinowitz, OASAS Commissioner Gorman and Cassandra Prentice, Director of Phoenix House Community Reintegration Residential Center in the Bronx, during a tour of Phoenix House.

Assemblyman Dinowitz and Commissioner Gorman first visited Phoenix House. Accompanied by Cassandra Prentice, Director of Phoenix House, Commissioner Gorman toured the four-story community reintegration residential center for parolees with a history of alcohol or drug dependence. The treatment is intense and effective; but the maximum stay is 3 months, shorter than preferred. Assemblyman Dinowitz noted that “these men have varied backgrounds but many come with extensive stays in prison. Three months is a relatively short period of time before reintegrating them fully into society.” Acknowledging the challenges posed at Phoenix House, the Commissioner was impressed with its commitment to its goals.

The next stop was VIP Services, a multifaceted treatment facility that provides a variety of services. The Executive Director, Sandra Ruiz Butter, and her staff, led a tour for the Assemblyman and Commissioner to several facilities run by VIP. Commissioner Gorman praised VIP for meeting the needs of each and every methadone client during the huge blackout of August 2003.

Among the VIP facilities they visited included the Health Services program, where moms were participating in a socialization skills class, busily doing arts and crafts with their children. Admiring the children, Assemblyman Dinowitz said, “I love to see children with smiles; seeing these children spend time like this making arts and crafts is where the cycle of drug addiction has a chance to stop.” The program teaches socialization skills and stress management, helping the transition back to family, friends and employment.

The tour moved onto an unfinished facility for 40 women. VIP currently houses 25 women but hopes to continue construction on this new facility in the near future. Commissioner Gorman reiterated his commitment to rekindling this project, as a much needed facility for women in the Bronx. VIP’s men’s residence was the last stop, where 75 men learn life and recovery skills for a period of time varying from several weeks to several months. Like all transitional recovery houses, VIP hopes to adequately prepare these men and women for a productive and fulfilling future.

The final leg of the tour brought Commissioner Gorman and Assemblyman Dinowitz to Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Division of Substance Abuse, where Assistant Director Patti Julliani explained that the clinic — one of the largest in the nation —serves 3500 patients each day system-wide, including providing crucial services like TB and HIV testing.

The Commissioner was aware of the two important issues facing Einstein: methadone reimbursement parity and professional staff retention. Methadone reimbursement parity is a major issue because some treatment providers are receiving less reimbursement for the methadone they provide to patients than other providers because of a difference in clinical classification and not because they are providing greatly different services. Professional staff retention is another important issue. Low pay makes it difficult to retain experienced staff. The commissioner commended the clinic for not missing a beat during the August 2003 blackout; the Friday after the blackout Einstein was able to serve all 3500 clients despite a lack of power.

Co-Occurring Disorders Hearing

According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), co-occurring disorders of mental illness and substance abuse affect from 7 to 10 million adults in the U.S. each year. Studies have also revealed that nearly 43 % of youth receiving mental health services in the United States have been diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder. People with co-occurring disorders are at high risk for many other problems, including homelessness, criminal involvement, suicide, vulnerability to trauma and violence, relapse and hospitalization.

Regrettably, some New Yorkers suffering from co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and mental illness fall through the cracks in the treatment system and don’t get the care they require. While there is disagreement as to why this occurs, one thing appears certain — patients who suffer from both mental illness and addiction or who have multiple addictions deserve the same kind of comprehensive care that would be considered routine for cancer patients with pneumonia, or diabetic patients with glaucoma.

Accordingly, the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Standing Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities held a public hearing in October to solicit testimony from stakeholders, for the purpose of assessing the needs of persons suffering from co-occurring disorders, ascertaining if the services available to such persons meet those needs, and determining if New York State needs to take action to improve services.

The day’s witnesses were a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including NAMI-NYS, the New York City Deptartment of Health and Mental Hygiene, the NYS Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, VIP Community Services, the Lower Eastside Service Center, the Mental Health Association of NYC and Westchester, the Coalition of Voluntary Mental Health Agencies, the Institute for Community Living, and Housing Works.

The witnesses made it abundantly clear that treatment for persons suffering from co-occurring disorders greatly improves their ability to function in the community, reduces their incidence of chemical abuse, and decreases their need for mental health services. According to many of the experts who testified, the most effective treatment for persons suffering from co-occurring disorders is referred to as “integrated treatment.” As the name implies, this treatment modality combines substance abuse and mental health care into a cohesive whole that can best serve the numerous needs of the client, instead of the traditional divided and often uncoordinated treatment systems. It was also made clear that if the availability of integrated treatment is to become more widespread, training of substance abuse and mental health providers must be geared toward serving clients with co-occurring disorders. Another issue that was raised during the hearing was the need for concerted screening for co-occurring disorders in both the mental health and substance abuse treatment systems, as well as in the criminal justice, education, child welfare and primary healthcare systems. This would help prevent persons with co-occurring disorders from falling through the cracks and suffering needlessly.

Assemblyman Dinowitz chairs a hearing on Co-Occurring Disorders with Assemblyman Peter Rivera, Chairman of the Committee on Mental Health

The committee is currently reviewing the testimony from the dozens of experts who presented at the hearing, and it is clear that legislation to help improve the services provided to persons with co-occurring disorders will result.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz
Chair, Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
New York State Assembly
Room 627 LOB • Albany, NY 12248 • 518-455-5965

New York State Assembly
[ Welcome Page ] [ Committee Updates ]