September 19, 2018
Avi Israel is on a mission to help other parents avoid the heartbreak he experienced after his son Michael’s suicide.
Michael was addicted to opioids, prescribed by multiple specialists to help ease the symptoms of severe Crohn’s disease. Attempts at detoxing or finding treatment hadn’t worked. Back then, Israel says, he didn’t know enough about addiction to help his son. Today, he’s the driving force behind Save the Michaels House of Hope, an organization he launched to educate his community about addiction and guide families through a loved one’s recovery.
Time to act
After Michael’s death, says Israel, “We knew that something had to be done. As parents, we really didn’t know anything about addiction… [but] we wanted to raise awareness.” That motivated Israel to work with BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York – Michael’s health insurer – on an awareness campaign called “Painkillers Kill.” Launched in 2014, the campaign alerted the community to the danger of prescription opioids through advertising on billboards, television, radio, print and online. It canvassed pharmacies, schools and doctors’ offices with educational materials. But Israel yearned to do more. He founded Save the Michaels House of Hope to promote his belief that families are essential in a loved one’s recovery.
House of Hope, launched with funds from Israel’s own 401(k), now holds packed-house workshops helping parents understand addiction. It also connects families with personal recovery coaches who help guide them through the unfamiliar terrain of addiction and recovery.
It takes a team
Patricia Hunter, behavioral health manager for BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, says House of Hope has been a welcome addition to the resources available for members with substance use disorder.
“Western New York has been hit particularly hard with the opioid crisis,” says Hunter. In fact, Erie County has one of the state’s highest overdose death rates, according to a 2016 report from the Office of the New York State Comptroller. She and her team of case managers now spend most of their time working with members with substance use disorder, beginning from the moment that member has been discharged from an inpatient treatment facility or referred by a healthcare professional.
Today, Hunter says, insurers like BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York are increasingly involved in the treatment of opioid use disorder. “There is more of a focus on their transition from inpatient to other levels of care,” says Hunter. She and her case managers reach out to members during those transitions to ensure they remain in treatment. They also offer resources, including House of Hope – a place where people in recovery and their families can find support.
“We knew that something had to be done. As parents, we really didn't know anything about addiction… [but] we wanted to raise awareness.”
At House of Hope workshops, families learn more about addiction, what recovery involves and how to be a part of that recovery.
Israel believes families should forget the term “tough love,” saying it’s better to support a loved one than throw a family member out of the house for using or relapsing. Because treatment and trust can prevent a tragic loss.