Families who've lost a loved one to addiction are championing a bill requiring relapse notification from addiction treatment providers. So are we!
Relapse Notification Bill
New York’s Democrat-controlled state Senate approved legislation that would require addiction treatment providers to contact predesignated loved ones when someone undergoing treatment shows potentially life-threatening behavior, especially relapse.
The bill is called "Stephen's Law." It's named for Stephen Canastraro Jr., of Buffalo, New York. Stephen died of an overdose two days after testing positive for fentanyl and oxycodone. His mother, Angela Robertson, said his treatment provider didn’t tell her about the results until a week after his death. This despite the fact Stephen agreed to having the results of his toxicology tests released to his mother.
"Had I known that, things might have been different," said Robertson. "The outcome may not have been death."
The bill's sponsor is Democratic Sen. Pete Harckham (Westchester County). Harckham, who is chair of the Senate's Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, inherited the bill from Republican Sen. Robert Ortt (North Tonawanda). Ortt sponsored the legislation when the GOP held the majority and handed it off to Harckham after Democrats took control of the chamber. The bi-partisan bill passed 60-0.
Harckham said the measure is aimed at preventing fatal overdoses by people in addiction treatment who may show signs of drug use relapse, including failing toxicology screenings or missing multiple appointments with counselors.
"Those are red-flag signs," said Harckham. "Today with fentanyl as dangerous as it is, we don’t get second chances."
The relapse notification legislation doesn’t yet have a sponsor in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. However Harckham’s office said it expects to have one soon.
The Importance of Relapse Notification
We at Recovery Boot Camp applaud New York's state senators for passing "Stephen's Law" and we sincerely hope the Assembly follows their extraordinary lead. Why? Because we know relapse can be dangerous. And we champion anything that can help mitigate that danger.
We also believe families have a right to know about their loved one's addiction treatment progress -- good and bad. And medical information release authorization is required before a client can even begin treatment. Then if an authorized friend or family member calls for an update, we provide it. And if by chance a loved one relapses, we phone the authorized family member or friend. We might not label it a relapse notification program. But that's in essence what it is. And we've instituted that measure since day one.
"I think [relapse notification] can save somebody's life," said New City, New York's Caren Schwartz. "And I'm all for it." Schwartz lost her 24-year-old son, Reid, to an overdose in 2015, so she knows the pain of such a tragic loss. She also knows how hard it can sometimes be to stay informed, even when someone is designated to receive medical information.
Stephen's Law would mandate relapse notification for addiction treatment providers. It would also help ensure an authorized contact wouldn't have to intuit when to ask about their loved one. After all, recovery shouldn't be a guessing game.