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State extends waiver for detox treatment; local hospitals still not participating

New York state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services
A letter from the state health department to hospital CEOs extends a waiver that allows them to devote more beds to detoxing opioid-addicted patients than would normally be permitted. But Rochester hospitals are not applying for the waiver.

A New York state health department program that enables hospitals to surpass the usual limit on the number of opioid-addicted patients who can receive in-hospital detox services has been extended another year, but Monroe County hospitals are still not participating.

The state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services sent a letter to New York hospital CEOs on Christmas Eve, informing them that a waiver permitting hospitals to devote more treatment slots to opioid detox patients will last at least through 2019. That waiver had been issued in March and was set to expire at the new year.

But neither major hospital system locally has applied for the waiver, despite calls from people addicted to opioids and their friends and families.

Rochester Regional Health and the University of Rochester Medical Center both referred WXXI News to statements they put out months ago. Those statements say that their hospitals provide opioid detoxification services to patients who show a need for them, but they do not have beds dedicated to inpatient drug detox.

The statements from the health care systems pointed to the addiction treatment services they provide in other settings as evidence that detox options are available outside of hospitals. "Inpatient detox beds are only one small part of the community system for addiction treatment," URMC communications vice president Chip Partner said in an email. But advocates have long said those services are insufficient to meet the needs of people addicted to opioids.

Dave Attridge is in recovery from addiction and helped found Recovery Now New York. He said the 25 inpatient detox beds in Monroe County are not adequate for the number of people who are seeking treatment.

“Each day, I receive phone calls of people that have passed, and people that have been trying to fight this but haven’t been able to get in.”

More inpatient beds are slated to open at Helio Health, a Rochester addiction treatment facility, early next year, but Attridge said in the meantime, hospital administrators should be making more efforts to meet the needs of people seeking immediate inpatient detox services. Those people are often referred to other health care providers for detox or other addiction treatments, and Attridge said the delay between their admittance to the hospital and the start of their treatment can be deadly.

“Unfortunately, with the wait, we lose lives,” he said. “I do find it disappointing that both Rochester General Hospital and Strong (Memorial Hospital) just don’t have these waivers in place. They could be doing the community a great service.”

In its letter to hospital CEOs, the state health department said hospital detox “has proven effective for rapidly and meaningfully engaging individuals in care.”

Still, before seeking inpatient detox treatment in a hospital or anywhere else, Monroe County health officials are urging people to get an evaluation and be placed by a professional in an appropriate recovery program -- which might not be inpatient detox.

Monroe County’s opioid task force offers a brochure of local addiction treatment providers here.

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