To the Editor:
In the wake of the most recent heroin related deaths in South County, many people in our community are experiencing deep loss, grief, helplessness, anger and a strong sense of outrage. To everyone that is touched by this issue: you are not alone. We talk with people weekly, and even daily, who have lost someone, are struggling to know how to help a loved one, or are seeking support for their own recovery and in other ways, surviving with an opioid use disorder.
As a community – as a county, a state, and country – we have a lot of work to do to make it possible for more people to heal. To better prevent anyone from becoming addicted in the first place. To make it so that anyone who needs help can and does get it. And to stop overdoses before they become fatal.
In this time of grief and intense loss, we wanted to share with the community in South County some of the resources that are available and make connections to community efforts to address the issue. There is still more that is needed. We hope that in sharing these resources and efforts, we can collectively do more for our community.
Naloxone/Narcan: For anyone who has an opioid prescription in your household or knows someone who is actively using an opioid, including heroin, it is important to consider having naloxone on hand. Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is available at CVS, Rite Aid and Big Y pharmacies without a prescription, at Tapestry Health in Pittsfield, and at the weekly Learn to Cope meeting (more information below), also in Pittsfield. It temporarily stops an opioid overdose, giving you time to get an ambulance or get to an ER. In other words, it is a life-saver.
First Responders: First responders, including fire departments and police, in many places carry naloxone to ensure that whoever is first on the scene of an overdose is able to immediately provide aid. Contact your local police and fire departments and ask if they carry naloxone. The Great Barrington and Egremont Police Departments both announced that they do last year. It is also important to know, and to spread the word to others, about the Good Samaritan Law in Massachusetts, which protects people from prosecution when they call seeking help for a drug related medical emergency like an overdose.
Support for Parents & Families: Learn to Cope are weekly meetings for parents and families with loved ones addicted to opioids, alcohol and other substances. They offer peer-support, education, and resources. Overdose education and naloxone/narcan training is available at every meeting. Learn to Cope meets in the Berkshires every Tuesday at 7PM, Berkshire Medical Center, Cancer Center, HEAL Community Room 165 Tor Court, Pittsfield. For more information go to https://www.learn2cope.org/
D.O.P.E. (Discussing our Personal Experiences) is running a support group for parents and family members of those struggling with opioid use disorders. These meetings are the 3rd Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m.- each month, at Berkshire South Regional Community Center and are led by Caroline Wheeler. For more information contact email@example.com.
Treatment: The Brien Center provides evidence-based assessment and treatment of substance use disorders for children, adolescents and adults at 60 Cottage Street, Great Barrington and at other locations throughout the county. Group and individual psychotherapy, office-based opioid treatment (suboxone and vivitrol), and an intensive outpatient evening program are provided as part of comprehensive wrap-around services. In-home support and treatment are available for adolescents with substance use disorders. Acute Care Services (Crisis Team) are available 24 hours/day. Recovery Homes and residential programs are available for men, women and families. To find out more or reach out for help, call the Brien Center at 413-499-0412.
Spectrum Health Services provides methadone and addiction counselling for opioid use disorders. The agency facilitates transportation to their Pittsfield clinic. To contact Spectrum about services, call 800-464-9555, ext. 1161.
Prescribing Safely: Fairview Hospital, the Town of Great Barrington, Railroad Street Youth Project and Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative, have partnered to pilot a program to provide more supports to patients that receive an opioid prescription – often after surgery – to prevent addiction. Doctors talk with patients at the time of the prescription about the addictive nature of opioids, make a plan for when and how the patient will stop using the medication, and identify the nearest Dropbox to dispose of any pills left. This information is provided to the patient to take home as well. For many people with opioid use disorders, their use started with a prescription in the course of treatment for a separate medical issue.
Reducing Access: Research shows that another way that opioid use starts for people, is by using a medical prescription of a family member or a friend for recreational purposes. One way to reduce this is to limit access to prescriptions in order to prevent use by others. For people with an opioid prescription for a medical issue, make a plan for safe storage of your prescription, for some situations a lockbox is a good option. Also plan to dispose of any pills left at the end of treatment safely. Extra opioid prescriptions can be dropped at any Rx Dropbox. All police stations in South County have Rx Dropboxes. The Great Barrington Police Department also has a disposal for needles in their lobby. (Please don’t flush medication down the toilet!)
In Our Schools: Both the Southern Berkshire Regional School District and Berkshire Hills Regional School District incorporate a substance abuse prevention curriculum called Life Skills in their health classes. The Life Skills Curriculum is an evidence-based curriculum that has been shown to effectively prevent both drug and alcohol use among teens. At the high school level, both districts also utilize a screening tool called SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment), to help identify students who may have a problem with drug or alcohol use early and get them support and treatment. Evidence-based prevention, early intervention and referral to treatment is provided by the Brien Center in schools as well.
For Parents of Young People: The Center for Motivation and Change, Railroad Street Youth Project and the South Berkshire Community Health Coalition are working together to increase supports available to parents with an active worry about drug or alcohol use by their teens or young people. This past spring we offered the first 8 hour training (with monthly follow-up discussions), to parents to learn positive and effective skills for helping their child and whole family navigate substance issues. We will be offering another training again in Feb/March of 2018. To get information about registration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Starting Prevention Early: South Berkshire Community Health Coalition is focused on reducing alcohol and other drug use among young in our community. Hosted by Railroad Street Youth Project, the coalition is made of up a wide range of community organizations and individuals, and includes representatives from both South County school districts and police departments. Early alcohol or drug use, impacts brain development and increases the risk for addiction later in life. The longer a young person delays use of alcohol and other drugs, the less risk they have for a substance use disorder later. For more information about the Coalition or their projects, email email@example.com.
There are many more treatment options, resources and community efforts happening throughout the county and beyond. And as long as we are losing friends and family to heroin, opioids and other drugs in our communities, we know it is not enough. But, we hope that as a community, together we can build on what is already underway to make the change we need.
Ananda Timpane, M.Ed., Executive Director, Railroad Street Youth Project
Beth Regulbuto, M. Ed., SFO, Superintendent of Schools, Southern Berkshire Regional School District
Cara Becker, Executive Administrative Assistant to the Chief of Police, Great Barrington Police Department
Doreen Hutchinson, Vice President of Operations & Patient Care, CNE, Fairview Hospital
Erik Bruun, Chairperson, South Berkshire Community Health Coalition
Ilana Steinhauer, Executive Director VIM Berkshires
Jayne Smith, Lead Community Health Organizer, South Berkshire Community Health Coalition, Railroad Street Youth Project
Jeff Foote, Ph.D., Center for Motivation and Change: Berkshires; CMC: Foundation For Change
Jenise Lucey, Executive Director, Berkshire South
Jennifer Michaels, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Brien Center
Marcy Julian, Senior Regional Manager, Learn to Cope
Peter Dillon Ed.D., Superintendent, Berkshire Hills Regional School District
Steven Bannon, Great Barrington Selectman and Berkshire Hills Regional Schools District School Committee Chairman