On January 21, I attended a press conference at Damon House in New Brunswick, NJ, where Congressman Frank Pallone announced a package of bills to address the nation’s heroin problem that would be introduced to Congress a few days later (it would get lost in the shuffle of Obama’s announcement earlier this week – I’m unhappy how both of them approach Suboxone, and I’ve made my views quite clear). Joel Pomales told his story at that event, which I released here the next day. Larry Redmond, a veteran in long-term recovery, also spoke there and told a moving story about how his cancer treatment was paid for without question but that he had to fight every few days to get his son’s addiction treatment covered. He has graciously typed it up for me to publish here.
My name is Larry Redmond. I am person in Long Term Recovery. In 1968, while serving in the United States Army, I was introduced to various drugs including heroin. Needless to say I became addicted to the heroin very quickly. In November of 1971, I entered my first rehab (Discovery House). In those days, the Therapeutic Community model was used. Programs like Discovery House, Daytop Village, and Integrity House all used a similar model of breaking the addict down and rebuilding their character. The length of time you spent in treatment was usually 18 months. Twelve months in the House and six months in the Re-Entry phase of the program. During the Re-Entry phase you did certain things that normal members of society did on a daily basis. You got a job, set up a budget, paid bills, and handled your other obligations.
You also had to learn to drink responsibly (editor’s note: TC’s stopped letting drug addicts drink in the 1980s). I was soon on my way to becoming an alcoholic. The next 15 years brought me to many Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) and private counselors. I was put on a variety of various Valium-like drugs. At one point, I was put on methadone to treat my opiate problem. None of this kept me on the right track.
In 1986, while married to my second and present wife, I entered what was to be my final rehab. I credit my wife with saving my life. She gave me an ultimatum which brought me to a detox in Union, NJ and then to a rehab in Pennsylvania. I was there for 45 days and have been sober ever since. While in sobriety, I finished college and have built a great life with my wife and two children. I have served as an elected official: both on the Town Council and the Board of Education. I am currently the vice-chairman of the county LACADA Board and am an advocate with NCADD (editor’s note: these are both groups that deal with some aspect of addiction policy). I sponsor a couple of young guys in AA and attend two family support group meetings each week.
I could go on about my accomplishments and the depths of where I crawled out of but I would rather discuss my family situation. I first realized that my son was an addict when he was in high school. I am a cancer survivor who had a stem cell transplant (bone marrow) in 2010. While I was going through chemo in 2008, my son started getting into trouble. He also had left home a couple of times and was involved with the Juvenile Justice System. One morning, before we left for a court appearance he started throwing up. My wife thought he was sick because of the stress, but I knew. He had gotten into the pain medications that I had been given for my cancer treatment. I never even thought about locking them up. Even with all my knowledge, I fell victim to the same parental cluelessness that so many of us suffer from. Thus began our horrendous odyssey through the rehab and insurance system.
I don’t know who paid for my 1971 rehab stay. I never was asked for insurance information. I was not working and had no insurance. But I stayed in treatment for 18 months. In the beginning of our journey, our son was in Touchtone Hall in Northern New Jersey. I would have to get on the phone every 5 days along with staff at the rehab to fight for another 5 days worth of payment under the medical necessity rule. After a couple of weeks he left the rehab. He was sent there by the courts so he violated probation by leaving. Over the next few years it was the same story everywhere we went. He finally managed to get a three week stay at New Hope in Secaucus. He did not get better. He left and went to a variety of Florida rehabs. He got arrested down there. I did find that the Florida facilities found a way to take our insurance. I spoke about our issues at a parody hearing at Stockton University with Patrick Kennedy. He said he had heard our story hundreds of times before.
My son’s issues are not only drug related. He also has Bipolar Disorder. This did manage to get him on SSI and Medicaid. It was a little better than traditional insurance when it came to rehabs in NJ. He is in supportive housing for the mentally ill in Plainsboro, NJ, right now. After a stint in a mental health facility, he seems to be on the right path. He recently celebrated 90 days clean and sober and gave me my 29-year medallion last December. I still don’t know which made me happier.
We have a crisis in our state right now. There are nowhere near enough beds for the people who need detox and treatment and even less ways to pay for them. John Brooks Recovery Center in Atlantic City is scheduled to close this April. They account for 42% of the South Jersey beds and 33% of the NJ’s detox beds. If we want to save our state this needs to change. Let me put this in perspective for you. While my son was suffering from a life threatening disease, I had to fight for his treatment every five days and sometimes I lost the battle. When I was in the foremost cancer hospital in the world for my stem cell transplant for 32 days, that same insurance company paid a quarter of a million dollars for my treatment. I never had to pick up the phone. Stigma is the problem. Until we change that we will never solve the addiction crisis.