NORTH ADAMS

Berkshire County's opioid abuse problem is no secret, but less talked about is the available treatment options - largely because no one wants to admit to addiction.

"People commonly talk about medical issues, but people do not talk about behavioral health issues," said M. Christine Macbeth, executive director of the Brien Center.

Some commonly abused opiates are Vicodin and Oxycodone, and if addiction grabs hold, it can lead to the use of heroin, which is also an opiate.

While treatment receives only scant attention, except when people are in desperate need, there are services available to help treat opioid use disorder. The services are receiving higher than expected demand because Berkshire County's opiate abuse problem mirrors rising numbers across the nation, according to Gale Lesure, program director for substance abuse services at the Brien Center.

Many of these services are centered in Pittsfield. However, a community coalition, the Berkshire Abuse and Prevention Collaborative, has been working to better tackle the problem.

"I have come to understand there is very good communication between those agencies," said Lois Daunis, prevention coordinator for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. "They really try to maximize treatment, but also after-care treatment."

There is a broad patchwork of agencies working together on the problem, Daunis said. The McGee Recovery Center at Berkshire Medical Center provides detoxification services, while Spectrum Health Services offers medication- assisted treatment using methadone.

In a prepared statement, Kristin Nolan, Spectrum's executive director for outpatient services, said Spectrum offers individualized services that stress psychological and educational elements.

"There are three, equally important parts to this form of treatment - medication, counseling and, support from family and friends," Nolan said in her statement. "These three parts work together to help people recover from opioid addiction."

The Brien Center, a leading provider of mental health and substance abuse services in the Berkshires, offers a comprehensive menu of treatment options. The center provides medication-assisted treatment that includes Suboxone, Vivitrol and Clonidine.

The Brien Center treated more than 600 new patients suffering opioid dependence in 2012, according to figures provided by the center. In 2010 and 2011, the center averaged 350 new patients who required such treatment.

"Medication, when used correctly, can be life-saving," said Jennifer Michaels, an attending psychiatrist at BMC and medical director at the Brien Center.

Michaels said anyone who makes the call will be admitted quickly and a treatment program is designed around the individual.

"The earlier this illness is addressed, the more likely they will do well and stop them from using," Michaels said.

A patient might start with a day-treatment program that supports sobriety and recovery from opiod abuse disorder. The program is available five days a week, and runs four to six weeks.

The patient could then transition to an enhanced outpatient treatment program, which teaches relapse prevention skills, provides a foundation for recovery and offers a support structure.

The center also runs the Keenan House - which recently scored high marks on a customer satisfaction survey - and Safe Harbor, which are temporary housing programs for individuals and families, respectively, that provide a structured drug-free living environment.

"Their lives revolve around opiates, getting high, avoiding the discomfort of withdrawing, and trying to find money for opiates," Michaels said. "It's a 24/7 job. It completely consumes them."

The Brien Center uses a bio-psycho-social approach, Michael said, which addresses the individual as a whole. Individuals are assessed for other possible conditions that could include depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. 

The program evaluates the person's psychological needs, such as their coping skills, and helps connect people with the necessary support.

"I would say 100 percent of people with opiate abuse disorder need coping skills and relapse-prevention skills," Michaels said.

The Brien Center earlier this month expanded its enhanced outpatient program run at its North Adams office on American Legion Drive "Recovery is a process," Michaels said. "The bad news is addiction is a disease. Recovery is a process that will be someone's entire life. When in recovery, they are experiencing a rebirth of their better selves."