New York Assoc of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse, meet John Coppola
USA Mobile Drug Testing of Central Long Island 516-802-3546 wishes John well in his quest to help NYS with drug problems. USAMDT can assist you with testing needs. Read about John:
What he does: For the last 16 years, Coppola has been the face of drug counselors and treatment centers in the halls of the Capitol. His association, known by its acronym ASAP, includes more than 250 members and some 20 coalitions — everyone from methadone clinics to Alcoholics Anonymous.
How he got here: Coppola was born in Brooklyn, moved a lot as a child but settled in a Hudson Valley boarding school with an eye toward becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He demurred, but after studying at Orange County Community College and Dominican College ended up in 1979 at the University at Albany pursuing a master’s degree in social work. He got an internship with Catholic Charities in Montgomery County, and was hired after graduation in 1981.
Personal: If you put your toes on the ground in Coppola’s back yard, off Washington Avenue Extension in the Pine Bush, it feels just like the beach. When he can get away from Albany for vacation, the 56-year-old says you’ll never find him far from the water — either the ocean or a beach — and usually with a paperback mystery novel to complete the mindless escape. A divorced father of three and grandfather of five, Coppola says he spends most of his free time catching up with old friends. He does make a mean meatball, though.
There aren’t many people who grow up dreaming of a career in substance abuse counseling. How did you end up in this line of work?
I think I was always able to see the potential in people. When you work in this field, you have daily experience with people who have completely turned their lives around. A lot of us would look at someone who’s homeless, in the street, and see them as lost, and a lost cause. But every once in a while I’ll meet someone who was one of those people at one time, and now they’re walking around, going to a job.
How have the attitudes and approach to dealing with these issues changed over time?
Science has told us so much. We now know that addiction is a disease rooted in brain chemistry, and people who are addicted have a physiology that is different than people who aren’t. When I first started counseling people we had some ideas about abstaining from use, and we didn’t really understand back in those days about which unhealthy behaviors could lead to others.
What about the government’s approach?
Historically, it’s been horrible. Because there’s so much stigma associated with it, frequently it’s the first thing that gets cut. One of the things I believe passionately is that Gov. Cuomo, in his first State of the State, said we have to get better results and make better use of our resources, collaborating across different systems. When I think about addiction treatment, prevention and recovery, in my opinion, that is an amazing driving force that can accomplish all three. If we want to try and reduce child abuse and neglect, we know that 80 percent of mothers and fathers who do that to their children have an addiction problem. But the system is not designed to deal with parents; it’s designed to protect kids. So as soon as you introduce treatments, abuse and neglect practically disappears — the kids are safer, and you don’t need to put them in out-of-home placement. It seems to me that right now, in New York state, the ground is more fertile than it’s ever been to try and reduce the investment.
What kinds of cases are providers seeing the most of?
The number of deaths that are attributable to prescription medications dwarfs the heroin crisis of the mid-’60s. That’s the biggest trend now — it’s alarming and it’s completely out of control. It’s just that we’ve got better medications, that really work, but they’re highly addictive and people are not being properly educated. And they’re being overprescribed.
— Jimmy Vielkind