NY prohibits smoking by people fighting addictions

By VALERIE BAUMAN,  ©Associated Press Writer, July 22, 2008

ALBANY, N.Y. - Many drug addicts, problem gamblers and alcoholics will find it harder to kick their habits in New York than anywhere else in the country now that smoking will be banned in all public and private recovery centers.

For some, taking away the tobacco crutch could be just enough to keep them from getting clean and sober, or from trying at all.

New York's 13 state-run addiction treatment centers have been tobacco free for more than 10 years. New regulations that take effect Thursday will apply to all treatment centers _ which has some facilities worried that people who need help for drugs and alcohol won't pursue it because they aren't ready to quit smoking.

Bryan Lapsker, a 21-year-old PCP addict from Brooklyn who has been getting help for his addiction at a treatment center in Queens for nearly nine months, has been dreading the change every day.

"Nicotine helps (addicts) get through the day," he said. "Now you take the nicotine away from us, it's almost impossible to get through the day ... addiction is addiction, I understand that, but nicotine is a legal substance."

Legal or not, state officials behind the new rules believe banning tobacco is critical to successful treatment programs.

"Often times smoking was given as a reward in the day-to-day treatment programs, and we need to make sure that we're changing the culture to really promote an overall recovery plan that involves health and wellness for the optimal chance for recovery," said Karen Carpenter-Palumbo, the commissioner of the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

In New York, an average of 18.2 percent of the public smokes, but 92 percent of the chemically dependent population smokes, she said.

Addicts are more likely to have long-term success if they quit smoking at the same time they enter treatment, Carpenter-Palumbo said.

An $8 million grant from the New York Department of Health will help train employees to deal with treating nicotine dependence and provide free nicotine replacements.

Providers say that's a start, but it won't pay for everything the mandate requires.

If people leave treatment because of the new rules it could create "an economic crisis for the field," said John Coppola, executive director of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers.

Treatment facilities will have a six month grace period during which tobacco use won't be a factor in whether their certification is renewed. They will also be able to develop their own plans to become tobacco free and decide at what point an addict would have to leave for violating the rules.

Robert Doherty, the executive director at St. Peter's Addiction Recovery Center in Albany, said the new regulations are more fair to facilities that have already prohibited smoking in the interest of their patients.

St. Peters took that step in May 2006, and Doherty said the facility has had minimal problems since the change.

"I think it's a more healthy approach to providing care, it's a more useful approach to treating addiction ... it just seems to be a responsible thing to do," he said.

Roy Kearse is the vice president of residential services at Samaritan Village, the Queens-based long-term treatment facility where Lapsker and other addicts from around the state get treatment at multiple locations.

While Kearse supports the idea of eliminating tobacco use among addicts, he is concerned the zero-tolerance policy could discourage some who would otherwise seek help through treatment.

"We don't know how many people will leave, if any at all will leave," Kearse said. "But we did have patients who said 'I didn't come in here to deal with my smoking addiction, I came in here for my heroin addiction, or my addiction to crack."'

Lapsker is getting treatment through a court-ordered mandate, and he's very happy and grateful for his time at Samaritan. But he said if he faces a potential relapse after leaving the facility he will "definitely not" go seek help because he doesn't want to quit smoking.

"I look forward to my every cigarette that I smoke," Lapsker said. "That's what gets me through the day, through the stress, through the pressure."

On the Net: http://www.oasas.state.ny.us/tobacco/index.cfm


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