Joshua Bressette
Joshua Bressette (Courtesy photo)

NORTH ADAMS -- It's too late to free her son from heroin's grip, but Kenna Waterman wants to ensure another struggling addict gets help.

Waterman's son, Joshua Bressette, was found dead on a Bronx, N.Y., rooftop on May 8. Although it remains unknown who killed him, Bressette's death is assumed by family, friends and police to be drug-related. Bressette, who was 25 when he died, was never convicted of any drug charges, but was known to many as a heroin user and dealer.

Within days of learning of her son's death, Waterman created the Joshua Bressette Victim and Witness Protection Fund. At the time, she didn't have a clear vision of how the money would be used, but now her mission has come into focus.

"The best use for the Joshua Bressette victim fund is to create a scholarship to be used to send at least one person a year to a rehab facility," Waterman said. "The initial cost of saving one's life through rehabilitation is at least $10,000. It is my intent to find a successful rehab facility willing to match the funds raised by the fund in order for a selected recipient to receive the best continued care available."

Waterman hopes to raise $10,000 through the fund -- it already has received more than $1,000 in the six weeks since Bressette's death -- by the end of 2014.

"The person who is picked to go to such a rehab will have to already have completed a detox program and must be totally committed to becoming clean and changing his or her life for the better," she said.

n

Bressette's death comes at a time when the community's struggles with addiction has reached previously unseen levels, according to users and officials. The Brien Center, the county's largest substance abuse treatment center, now treats more people for heroin and opioid addiction than for alcohol.

Opiod addiction statistics:

→ North Adams Ambulance Service personnel have administered Narcan, a drug that helps temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, 21 times since March.
→ In 2012, the most recent year available, 668 Massachusetts residents died of an opioid overdose.
→ Statewide, Massachusetts State Police have responded to 140 fatalities suspected to be heroin overdoses between November 2013 and March. (The state police data only includes instances within its jurisdiction and does not include the state's three largest cities, Boston, Worcester and Springfield.)
→ More than 40 percent of those receiving heroin/opioid treatment were between the ages of 13 and 29.  Source: Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, North Adams Ambulance Service

The rise of the drug's usage -- and its consequences -- also may best be illustrated by the use of Narcan, a fast-acting drug that can help reverse the affects of a heroin overdose. In the past three months alone, the North Adams Ambulance Service has administered Narcan 21 times, a number that even North Adams Ambulance General Manager John Meaney Jr. believes is alarming.

"I can tell you it was nowhere near that in years past," Meaney said.

It's difficult to determine exactly how much heroin comes into Berkshire County. Though it is clear from interviews with several sources and past police affidavits that much of it comes from New York City, either directly or by way of heroin hotspots, such as Holyoke.

Bressette, during his most active dealing spurts, could sell one or two dozen bundles of heroin in a day, according to those close to him. Every bundle contains 10 bags of heroin packaged for individual use, which sell for roughly $10 to $15 each on the street.

Most heroin addictions begin by abusing prescription painkillers, and eventually, the addict often makes the switch to heroin because it's significantly less expensive.

"We started out doing pills, maybe once a month, but slowly doing it more and more," said Jedidiah Bressette, Joshua Bressette's brother. "One day we just woke up and needed drugs to feel normal."

n

For a person in this situation, in North Adams, it can be an easy switch to heroin. Some dealers will provide newer users with free dope. Once the user is hooked, the dealer says it's time to start paying.

"I could get you dope right now," said one source who wished to remain anonymous. "It's very easy. It's too easy. It's easier to get dope than it is to get weed."

The source, who is closely familiar with the North Adams drug subculture, said that even with the death of Bressette and arrests of several other dealers, new suppliers have already moved in.

"At least six people are actively selling in North Adams," the source said. "All it takes is a phone call."

Once addicted, attempts to quit heroin can be a routine struggle.

"Josh even wanted to get better but stopping meant getting very sick," his mother said. "He would often try to kick his addiction. He went to rehab a couple of times but he would never stay long enough for it to work. When he would quit for any length of time, he would do it because he wanted to and not because of anyone else wanting him to."

Tiffany Roberts, a close friend of Bressette's, said that Josh didn't let his addiction affect their relationship, but that "the only difference was that back then he wasn't lost and confused and scared about the world. Drugs do that to you."

"He was afraid to be around the people he loved the most," Roberts said, "because he was afraid of disappointing them."

n

A common cynicism persists amongst those involved in the North Adams drug scene that broader policing and intense prosecuting of drug crimes won't solve the issue.

"You take one off the street and two more pop up," said one former drug user. "It doesn't happen like that, people need to get their fix. You're only going to stop if you want to stop."

Jail time doesn't fix addiction, said another source who is an active user and wished to remain anonymous.

"That doesn't help. That does nothing," the source said. "You just bide your time until you get out of jail and you can do [drugs] again."In prepared remarks before a state Senate panel on opioid abuse earlier this year, Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless largely echoed those sentiments. He argued that policing cannot be the sole answer to the growing heroin addiction crisis in Berkshire County.

"That doesn't help. That does nothing," the source said. "You just bide your time until you get out of jail and you can do [drugs] again."In prepared remarks before a state Senate panel on opioid abuse earlier this year, Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless largely echoed those sentiments. He argued that policing cannot be the sole answer to the growing heroin addiction crisis in Berkshire County.

"Our focus as a community must be on preventing the further spread of heroin and other opioid addiction by addressing its root causes, and providing adequate treatment to those already ensnared in addition's clutches," Capeless said. "Doing so will not be achieved in the forum of our criminal justice system, but only by forceful public policy action."

But addicts often see a clear disconnect between mainstream society and drug users on how the issue is being confronted.

"The people who are trying to deal with this whole drug thing just don't get it," said an addict who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. "Regardless of how many people they get out of this town, there's always going to be new people coming in after them. You need to get people the proper help [because] as long as people want dope, it'll be here."

n

There are treatment options available in Berkshire County, according to Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director of the Brien Center and attending psychiatrist at Berkshire Medical Center.

"We're responding to the increase [in heroin abuse] by a number of methods," Michaels said. "In North Adams we opened up an enhanced outpatient program, and we hope to open a day program in North Adams also."

There is no wait list, Michaels said, and people can receive treatment immediately when they need it. The Brien Center also partners with Berkshire Medical Center to provide inpatient care for addiction.

Michaels, like Capeless, largely attributes the rise in heroin addiction to the overprescription of painkillers.

"In the late 1990s, there was a focus on treating pain and the result was over-prescribing of opiate pills," Michaels said. "People became addicted, and as they became more and more tolerant and couldn't afford it, they turned to heroin, which is cheaper."

Progress has been made in Berkshire County by Michaels and other medical professionals to stem the supply of opioid pills, she said.

"Unfortunately as we now diminish the supply of opioid pills, we're seeing a ballooning of heroin use, [but] the next generation will not have access."

In the immediate future, Michaels said, the Brien Center is focused on treatment.

"Treatment works. We know treatment works," she said. "For every $1 we spend treating people, we save $7 that society pays. It's very expensive to jail people, and medical expenses, and lost wages."

The long-term solution to addiction, which Michaels points out has become a national issue, is multi-faceted.

"We need to better educate young people about the risks of addiction. We need to destigmatize the disease of addiction. Part of the problem is people don't get help early," Michaels said. "We're seeing people in very advanced stages of addiction because of the stigma, the shame involved, the secretiveness. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people didn't feel ostracized?"

Waterman, through telling her son's story, also hopes to break that stigma.

Donations to Waterman's effort can be made by check, addressed to the Joshua Bressette Victim and Witness Protection Fund, and sent directly to the Greylock Federal Credit Union at 66 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247.