The Daily News By Susan Ferraro
Salt in the wounds
Among the millions traumatized by the attacks on the World Trade Center were thousands of New Yorkers already struggling, day to day, with recovery from substance abuse or painful or disabling physical problems.
Among drug abusers, “A majority of clients in treatment have histories of trauma – physical, sexual, witnessing violence, experiencing losses of family and loved ones,” says Peter Provet, head of Odyssey House.
New trauma, he says, is “salt in the wound” and can, if untended, trigger relapse and ruin.
Consider Laureal A.: On Sept. 11, he was four months out of a successful residential drug program and at his new job – on the 44th floor of 1 World Trade Center. In an hour of miracles and death, Laureal made it to the street.
As his job went up in smoke and his carefully constructed second chance at life was threatened, he walked to his Odyssey House treatment center on Wards Island, where he knew he could get the support he needed.
“He’s been back to talk about his experience,” says Isobelle Surface, an Odyssey House spokeswoman, discussing his continuing struggles (including paying the rent on his new apartment).
Abusers tend to “self-medicate” for temporary relief, says Mark Armiento, who trains substance-abuse counselors at the Queens-based Outreach Project; he is especially concerned about people who might be sliding into alcohol abuse.
“Look at the average face of the people around Ground Zero,” he says. “So many are probably struggling.” Those who turn to an extra drink – a common enough reaction – may never be diagnosed if that inclination gets out of hand, he suggests, because society doesn’t look kindly on the problem.
Also vulnerable to extra risk and anxiety are those with physical handicaps, says Brewster Thackeray at the National Organization of Disability (NOD) in Washington, D.C.
While physical disability is different from drug abuse, he says, both problems often are ignored. Anyone who has “been through drug or physical therapy,” he notes, has battled powerful, destructive forces and knows how difficult the struggle can be. And that it can get worse.
A recent NOD survey found 58% to 61% of the disabled don’t feel prepared in the event of more attacks. Very worried: the blind, those who live or work near Ground Zero, and those who realize their buildings don’t have good evacuation plans.
“People in wheelchairs or who use walkers or canes are feeling particularly vulnerable,” says Thackeray. “Ultimately, this can lead to depression.”
And that’s another disability.
Here are some resources:
- National Organization of Disability (NOD): Online at www.nod.org or call (202) 293-5960.
- Outreach Project: For outpatient help or to learn to be a drug and alcohol recovery counselor, call (718) 847-9233.
- Odyssey House: Online at www.odysseyhouseinc.org or call (212) 987-5100.