Recovering Addict: Conifer Park Saved My Life

FACILITY: Assemblyman D. Billy Jones heard from clients, treatment professionals during tours, round tables

PLATTSBURGH — Two years ago, Conifer Park was administering methadone and Suboxone to 72 clients on a weekly basis.

At 140 now, that number has almost doubled, Nursing Coordinator Karla Lyon told Assemblyman D. Billy Jones during a recent tour of the facility.

That could be interpreted as a positive in some ways, as awareness surrounding the opiate epidemic has increased and more people are ready to get help.

“It’s not just the methadone and Suboxone (as treatment),” said Michelle Collings, director of Conifer Park’s outpatient clinic.

“They get a lot of support.”

“We’re a very hands-on clinic,” Lyon said.



Jones, his chief of staff, Molly Ryan, and Francene Cornell, who lost her son to an opiate overdose in July 2016, visited Conifer Park and other local treatment centers recently for round tables on the opiate epidemic.

Several current and past clients in recovery shared their stories, assured by clinic staff that only their first names would be released.

At Conifer Park, Lucinda, Kaylah and Kevin talked to Jones about what worked for them in treatment and why they decided to get help.



Lucinda has been clean for 20 months.

She said that when she came to Conifer Park, she was at death’s door, and the treatment center saved her life.

Methadone didn’t work for her, but she has stayed sober while on Suboxone.

Though she has graduated as a client, she still sees a Conifer Park doctor.

When Jones asked her why she decided to get clean, Lucinda said she was sick and tired of being sick and tired, having lost her marriage and house while she struggled with addiction.

Along with the Suboxone, Alcoholics Anonymous helped her pull through: She went to 14 meetings each week her first year in recovery and still goes five days a week.



Kaylah held her 4-month-old son as she spoke.

She admitted that when she first came to Conifer Park in 2015, she was hurt and confused and not ready to get help.

Kaylah had just gotten out of a bad relationship, and Clinton County Child Protective Services had removed her two other children.

After relapsing many times, she was kicked out of Conifer Park.



Kaylah later went to a Conifer Park rehab facility in Schenectedy for two and a half weeks, since that’s all her insurance would allow.

Doctors didn’t taper her off methadone and couldn’t let her leave sick, so they put her on Suboxone.

She is a participant in Mental Health Court and under probation.

At one point, she tested positive for methadone while on Suboxone, even though, she said, she hadn’t used it.

After going to jail for five days, she returned to Conifer Park’s Plattsburgh clinic and found out she was pregnant.



Kaylah doesn’t believe in God, thinking instead that we get here because we do all the work, but felt she had a spiritual awakening with news of her new baby.

She had lost her other two children because she put a man and drugs before them; she wasn’t going to do that again.

Kaylah said she has been clean since June 16, 2016.

For a while, she could only visit her other two children one hour per week, but on Aug. 30 she was granted visitation of multiple days and hours per week.

Little by little, she said, her family is coming back together.



It took a lot for Kevin to come to the round table, given the stigma that still surrounds addiction.

But he wouldn’t be who he is without Conifer Park, he said.

Kevin decided to get clean out of personal guilt. He had never pictured himself doing drugs and feels he lost himself for 10 years — disappointing himself, his mother, his grandmother.

Though it took him a while to get into recovery, he said it helped that he could to go to work while receiving treatment.

He works 70 hours per week and would not have been able to take a month off to got to an inpatient facility.

By building trust with the people he worked with at Conifer Park, he was able to earn take-homes, meaning he does not always have to come in to receive the medication he needs.

He tries to pay it forward by doing good every day.



Kaylah believes that people struggling with addiction have to want to get well.

Her first time at Conifer Park, she didn’t want it and was mean to those who wanted to help her. 

Now, she loves all of them and is so thankful they gave her a second chance.

“Because of this epidemic, people who come here are so sick,” Collings said.

“We see them at their worst, but we celebrate them at their best.

“For these guys, just walking in the door was probably the hardest part.”



Nurses administer the medications — narcotics used to treat narcotic drug addiction — six days a week, Collings said.

That constant contact allows them to get focused on treatment and recovery.

Many people come in by self-referral, Collings said, having to call repeatedly until spots open up.

Kevin called for a couple of weeks.

At his first appointment, he remembered, Collings took notes on a white pad, jotting down a summary of his years of addiction, judgment-free.

“It’s an assessment for level of care and need,” she explained.



Kaylah had less of a wait — her second time around, Collings told her to come in the next day.

Conifer Park does not currently have a waiting list, the clinic director said.

“As we’ve grown, we’ve been able to add staff,” she said, though finding credentialed, licensed clinicians in the area is a barrier.

“We need to be ready to strike when the iron’s hot, or we’re going to lose them.”



Conifer Park Director of Outpatient Operations Kurt Brown commended Kevin for bringing up the stigma he has faced and said that agencies also face that judgment.

Compared to other communities, Plattsburgh has been very supportive of offering medication-assisted treatment, he said.

But he did voice concerns about the quality of medicabs that offer transport for non-emergency medical appointments.

“I want people to have jobs that need to have jobs,” Brown told Jones, adding that it’s difficult to communicate with the organization managing medicabs.

“We want to make sure people are coming to treatment in a safe environment.”



Collings’s Troy-based counterpart, Joe LaCoppola, emphasized that without the Plattsburgh clinic, the closest place people would be able to get medication-supported treatment is Albany.

However, he continued, there need to be some consistent standards and codings for insurance companies, as there are often barriers to prescribing medications like Suboxone.

Jones asked if that is because of abuses of such medications or that the insurance companies want more money.

“A little bit of both,” LaCoppola said. “An outpatient program like ours has the ability to dispense and engage individuals early in treatment.”

But, he said, “it’s not one shoe that fits all.”



Dr. Ruchika Saini emphasized the need to individualize treatment.

Treatment providers need to be aware of when people get Suboxone and don’t come back, indicating abuse.

“It’s important that we be vigilant,” she said. 

“If we see a problem, we say they have to come to the window,” Saini added, referring to where nurses administer the medication.

“But that doesn’t mean they’ll stay at the window.”


Email Cara Chapman:

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman



Champlain Valley Family Center

Service(s): Prevention, outpatient services.

Prevention contact: Constance “Connie” Wille.