In Depth: Turned Away

February 27, 2017 07:16 PM

"Anyone who knew Sean knew he was their protector. He was a great kid. He was the captain of his football team. He broke his arm while at work, ended up getting a prescription for oxycodone. And that's how it started," said Tim Murdick.

Within two weeks, Murdick says his son was addicted to pain pills. Then, Sean turned to heroin.

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Tim tried desperately to get his son help. They visited several treatment centers in the Capital Region, but Tim says Sean was turned away, citing reasons like: he was not high enough or he did not have enough of the drug in his system.

"Sean was in the elevator with me crying. He kept saying 'Dad, I just want help'," said Tim.

Sean finally got help, at a treatment center nearly 1,400 miles away in Palm Springs, Florida. They kept him drug-free for seven months. Unfortunately, Sean relapsed, overdosed and died in September 2015.

WEB EXTRA: Dad who lost son to heroin addiction discusses resolution to help addicts

Christina Riegel is a drug addict. She says she tried to get help, but was turned way from treatment centers because she didn't have the right insurance.

"I lost everything I had; my apartment, my job. I just said hell with everything. I just cared about the next one," said Riegel. "I reached out for help from my probation officer, my insurance wouldn't accept it. They just wouldn't help me. I wanted to go to a 28 day program. I literally went to my probation office and said violate me."

In many cases addicts end up going to jail to get help.

Riegel said, "I'm in Albany County Jail and I'm happy, like come on are you serious?"

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says he has parents calling him all the time.

"It's sad that a mom or dad or sometimes a brother or sister would have to call and beg you to arrest his kid to save his life," said Sheriff Apple.

So what can an addict do to get help? And, why are some being turned away?

The state says that should not be happening, in fact, it's against the law. The Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, known as OASAS, says:

"We take these allegations very seriously and are looking into them. In New York State, it is illegal to deny medically necessary treatment to people with a substance use disorder for reasons related to the amount of narcotics in their blood stream."

As for insurance issues, new laws passed at the beginning of the year. Assemblyman John Mcdonald (D-Cohoes), says, "When an individual is admitted to the hospital, before we could only keep them there for 48 hours, now it's 72 hours."

And if they want further treatment?

McDonald says, "14 days. Automatically. No prior authoritzation can limit them. Insurance can't deny it."

Assemblyman McDonald money for urgent access centers is included in this year's state budget. It would be similar to going to urgent care for something like the flu, only this would be for drug addiction.

"A 24/7 operation, so that if that individual decides 'I need help', they go to that center and are surrounded by people who understand the system very well," said McDonald.

He suggests families take a look at the Combat Heroin website, it lists all the centers in the immediate area that have open beds.

Help is out there, but the families NewsChannel 13 spoke with say finding it is challenging and confusing, especially when going through something so emotional. The window of opportunity to help a drug addict is so small.

"Once that person says I need help, that's the critical time. There can be no delay," says Tim Murdick.

NewsChannel 13 spoke with Christina Riegel Monday evening and she is out of jail. However, she has not gone to a treatment facility.

The substance abuse counselor at the jail set up a meeting with her for an outpatient center. However, Riegel says she never went to that appointment. She says she is not using drugs.

More information:

NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services

NYS Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse website


Subrina Dhammi

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