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Will Mandating More Rehab Improve Outcomes?

By Jason Weinstein.
There is a bill in front of both houses of the New York State Legislature that would mandate insurance pay for 90 days of treatment. What kind of impact would that have?

Medical professionals who call addiction a brain disease say the length of time many addicts stay in treatment simply isn't long enough to treat the short- and long-term effects of that disease.

"Right now our average length of stay is under two weeks. We have to work with managed medicaid companies to even get that. It's often four or five days is all they'll approve. We really can't get people even completely drug free from opioids especially in that time frame," said Alan Wilmarth, Administrative Director of Behavioral Health at UHS.

Centers like UHS' New Horizons need to give addicts 72 hours notice of the expiration of approved days for their stay. That ticking clock stacks the odds against recovery.

"They're really focused on if they'll be able to stay here. They'll say, 'I don't want to start working on this particular problem, this particular issue related to my addiction if I'm only going to be here for two or three days,'" said Wilmarth.

Wilmarth says discharging addicts in days or weeks as opposed to months can have severe consequences.

"If we have to discharge somebody after 10 days of inpatient rehab and they still don't feel well and they still have flu-like symptoms if they're addicted to opiates, for example, they're going to have them for several weeks minimum. To discharge them back to the community when they know how to treat that withdrawal and they're very afraid of it they'll get high again," said Wilmarth.

That's why addiction advocates spent last week in Albany pushing for the bill to pass.

"90 days of treatment puts somebody over the 50 percent success rate. It's not the best rate of success that we'd like to see. We'd like to see six months but at least it's a great improvement over what we have now," said Alexis Pleus, founder of Truth Pharm.

Both State Senator Fred Akshar and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo say they support the legislation.