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Long Island Mom Takes Opioids Fight To Insurance Companies

NORTHPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Alarming and tragic government statistics were released on Thursday.

Life expectancy is declining in numbers that we haven't seen since World War I. Suicide rates are at a 50-year high, and we are in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in United States history.

CBS2's Jennifer McLogan spoke to one Long Island mother, who had a painful overdose message to share.

Her only child died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl.

opioid abuse
Sharon Richmond and her son, Vincent. (Photo: Sharon Richmond)

Fifth-grade teacher Sharon Richmond said now only the love of her students and husband make each day bearable.

"Good kids make bad choices. It's so important for us to erase that stigma that happens to our children when they battle the disease of addiction," Richmond said.

Her 25-year-old son, Vincent, was like thousands of others caught up in the grip of opioid abuse. He wanted to get better.

Sobering statistics from 2017 just released by the Centers for Disease Control show the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago.

Life expectancy has dropped. More Americans die younger due to suicide and drug overdose.

"I know I have to fight this fight because I worry every morning I wake up and I think some other poor parent is going through this," Sharon said.

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One fight since Vincent's death one year ago has been against insurance companies, who she said often erect roadblocks to treatment. They approved a three-day detox for her son, but no proper follow up, and denied access to Food and Drug Administration-approved medications.

Vincent was told he was from a stable family and was kicked out of rehab just before his overdose.

"He called me up hysterical crying: 'Mom, they're telling me I have to leave. The insurance company back-denied,'" Sharon said.

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The Family & Children's Association's Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds said he believes the sharp increase in overdoses and suicides is tied to untreated anxiety, depression and fear.

"If we can get to the heart of this, which is really treating mental health issues before they turn into major problems, that is going to be how we save lives," Reynolds said.

"He went from thinking he could handle it to, he said, 'Mom, I cant even get through the day,'" Sharon said.

There is a federal law in place to end health insurance discrimination against people with mental health and substance abuse disorders, but some claim it is difficult to enforce because the burden of proof is on the suffering families.

The New York State Attorney General's Office said it is taking steps to hold insurers accountable. Insurance companies told CBS2 they are already compliant and sensitive to needs.

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