Like so many social service programs, addiction treatment services like the Buffalo-based organization "Save the Michaels" have been severely cut in the governor's executive budget.
"We lost 31% of funding," Avi Israel, president of "Save the Michaels" told Capital Tonight.
It’s why Israel wants to see the state steer all money from opioid settlements into a special fund dedicated to addiction treatment.
"There was just a settlement with McKinsey,” Israel told Capital Tonight. "$33 million is going to New York State. Where’s that money going to go to? It should go to the people who need the help. My son gave his life for that money.”
Israel’s organization was named for his son Michael who died in 2011.
Michael David Israel was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease when he was 12 years old. The Mayo Clinic describes Crohn’s as a type of inflammatory bowel disease that cause abdominal pain and severe diarrhea, among other issues.
By the time Michael was 18, he had undergone several surgeries. According to his father, Michael’s surgeon had prescribed hydrocodone, the family doctor had him on Xanax, and the gastroenterologist had prescribed him Cymbalta and 18 other drugs for chronic Crohn’s Disease.
Michael became addicted to the pain pills.
This is from Avi Israel’s testimony to a U.S. Senate Drug Committee:
'In December, of 2010, Michael sat on my bed and said "pops, I have problems with my pain pills. I think I’m addicted." I did not know the severity of the problem, and replied "Okay Michael, we’ll tell the doctor next week when we see him." The following week I informed his surgeon of Michael’s concern and got a pat on my shoulders, with a comment that "Michael needs his pills now." I was politely dismissed.'
In January of 2011, at the age of 20, Michael had an ileostomy, which is similar to a colostomy. When he left the hospital in February, Michael had a prescription of hydrocodone with 3 refills, each refill containing 240 pills.
By Easter, weighing just 95 pounds, Michael asked to be taken to an in-patient treatment facility. Because the Israel’s insurance wouldn’t pay for more treatment, he was only in the facility for 5 days.
In May, Michael attempted suicide for the first time, locking himself in the family’s garage with the car running. His mother, Julie, talked him out of it.
On June 4, 2011, Michael finished what he had attempted in May.
Leading up to his death, Michael again asked his opiate counselor to help him get admitted to a facility, but the counselor told Michael there were no beds available for him.
Avi Israel: "Michael handed me the phone; I asked the young lady "what should we do?" [and] her reply was wait until Monday or take him to the county hospital. In the meantime, Michael walked to the back of the house, pulled an old shotgun, and locked himself in my bedroom."
Michael David Israel died of a gunshot wound to the head in his father’s arms.
To honor Michael’s life, Avi and Julie Israel founded "Save the Michaels of the World, Inc." to help other families going through what they did.
In an emotional interview, Avi told Capital Tonight that the pandemic has made finding treatment almost impossible in the state. Not only are beds in short supply, but facilities are only serving a fraction of the patients they could because of social distancing required during COVID.
"Every week I get calls from people who are begging to go to treatment. And when I find them a bed, and when they get in to treatment, they are isolated," Israel explained. "These are people who lived in isolation for most of their life, like Michael. They go into a treatment facility, and because there are no testing capabilities, they’re put into a room for 10 days. They have to stare at the walls. They call me and say, 'Avi, I can’t stay here. I’m by myself in a room.'"
But according to Israel, there is nowhere else to go in New York State, which is why he wants all the money from the various opioid settlements to go to expanding addiction treatment.
Israel also wants to see the staff at treatment facilities get vaccinated.
"I want testing capability for every addiction treatment facility in New York State. I want to see the people who are working at these facilities to be protected," Israel said. "Once a facility gets COVID, it closes down and they don’t accept any more people."