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Public Employee Press

Albany activism

Local 372 fights for more SAPIS funds

By Alfredo Alvarado

While substance abuse continues to rise in New York City and nationwide, the number of Substance Abuse Prevention Intervention Specialists working in the city’s public schools remain stagnant since 2015.

There were only 243 SAPIS counselors in 2015 to serve the city’s entire public school system. In 2008, there were 501.

The counselors, represented by Local 372, went to Albany to get more funding to hire an additional 25 SAPIS counselors.

SAPIS Chapter Chair Kevin Allen and Donna Tilghman, SAPIS chapter secretary, made their case at the state Assembly budget hearing on mental health.

“Because of this drug epidemic, our youth are more vulnerable than ever,” said Allen, at the Feb. 13 hearing. “Students are not only using street drugs and consuming alcohol, but there’s a sharp increase in the abuse of prescription drugs too, especially in Manhattan and Staten Island,” he said.

The local has received support for more funding from state Senate leaders Marisol Alcantara, Tony Avella, Diane Savino and Jesse Hamilton.

Local 372 Pres. Shaun D. Francois I and his leadership is asking the Senate to support adding $1 million to the state budget to hire the 25 additional SAPIS counselors. SAPIS positions are funded by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and then the funds are matched by the City Council.

Substance Abuse Prevention Intervention Specialists play an essential role in getting the message out to impressionable teenagers about the dangers of substance abuse.

They coordinate drug prevention workshops for students and parents, make referrals to receive additional individual and family counseling services and treatment. They frequently collaborate with agencies like the Staten Island District Attorney’s office and worked closely with schools in Staten Island, providing workshops for students and teachers to help combat the heroin crisis.

President Francois I and Local 372 activists have more trips to Albany on their agenda for March to meet legislators to continue their lobbying efforts.

“This is not the time to undermine the importance of having a Substance Abuse Specialist in NYC schools. There should be a SAPIS in every school in the five boroughs,” said Francois.

“I personally lost my nephew with the overdose of opioids. The actions we take today, will make a better tomorrow,” he said.