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Save The Michaels gains state funds to expand into Niagara County

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse is distributing more than $5.1 million to agencies throughout the state to expand or establish addiction recovery centers. Receiving some of that money is a Buffalo-based agency founded in memory of a young man who lost his struggle with addiction eight years ago.

Save the Michaels of the World is receiving $350,000 from OASAS to expand its services into Niagara County.  Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul delivered the ceremonial check, one of many being passed throughout the state on behalf of OASAS.

"I am so glad that you are using the resources of this organization to connect people with a place where they can start a whole new life, with people who understand what they've been through, people who are in recovery themselves, people who have kicked it and are there to help them with an open hand," Hochul said.

The agency is named for Michael Israel, who battled an opiate addiction that followed his use of painkillers prescribed to him by a physician. In an act of desperation amidst his addiction, he took his own life in 2011 at the age of 20. His parents, Avi and Julie, decided they needed to act to prevent similar tragedies in other families. The organization, in which Avi Israel serves as president and Julie Israel serves on its Board of Directors, raises addiction awareness and encourages people battling them to enter treatment.

"We've been very successful at it in the short period of time we've been doing it, " Avi Israel said. "Last year we helped over 1,100 people get into treatment. We're now working with over 200 families."

Niagara County officials say having Save The Michaels of the World's services in their county will benefit many families seeking closer help, especially individuals and families in the eastern end of the county.

"We're very excited about this community recovery center, which really shows the innovative nature of Save the Michaels, person-centered," said Laura Kelemen, Niagara County's Commissioner of Mental Health. "Each individual is treated for 'where are you at right now, how can we help you, how can we assist you.'"

Kelemen says last year in Niagara County, there were 430 documented opiate-related overdoses, 44 of which proved fatal.

Supporting Save the Michaels is Horizon Health Services, which is led by Anne Constantino. The organization, which offers help with address mental and substance abuse matters, has more than 20 locations in Western New York, including clinics in Niagara Falls, Sanborn and Lockport.

"I can say there's nobody in our community that doesn't have a stake in this," Constantino said. "We all have our grief. We all have our family members. But the good news is, over those years, is that we've made progress."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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