You see it on the news and read in the paper: As in Massachusetts and the rest of the country, the abuse of illicit and prescription drugs continues to be a major issue in Berkshire County, with rates of overdose associated with opioids on the rise.
As of 2014, heroin and associated opioids surpassed alcohol as the number one treatment sought at the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse. At Berkshire Health Systems (BHS), there has been a 55 percent increase in overdoses into BHS emergency departments from 2012-2015 (Berkshire County Community Pain Management Initiative, 2015).
To better address the emerging opioid crisis, the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative (BOAPC) was formed in 2013. BOAPC was implemented after the Berkshire Public Health Alliance, a partnership of 23 of the municipalities in Berkshire County, joined with the Tri-Town Health Department and the City of Pittsfield received a three-year grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Substance Abuse Services.
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is the fiscal host for this grant, with programmatic oversight from a steering committee of community partners. Now in its third year, BOAPC is eligible for two two-year extensions to continue its work. BOAPC's work focuses on the key areas of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery support.
In addition to the original applicants, key community partners are the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Railroad Street Youth Project, Multicultural BRIDGE, The Brien Center, and the Berkshire Youth Development Project. Other organizations supporting and participating in this effort include Berkshire Health Systems, Berkshire Sheriff's Department, Berkshire United Way, Berkshire County District Attorney's Office and the Berkshire County Drug Task Force.
In year three of the grant, BOAPC will mobilize existing resources and build capacity to address identified service gaps, to continue the development and implementation of strategies to prevent the misuse or abuse of opioids, as well as prevent or reduce unintentional deaths and non-fatal events associated with opioid poisonings.
Strategies to reduce opioid misuse and abuse that will be implemented in year three include opioid consumption strategies supporting additional education for Berkshire County health professionals who prescribe opioids; educational materials for those who are prescribed opioids; supporting, exploring and supporting alternative methods for addressing chronic pain, such as exercise as medicine and yoga for recovery; supporting comprehensive health education in local schools, supporting SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment), and supporting substance abuse and addiction education for educators.
There has also been an on-going media campaign around safe storage and disposal of medications. BOAPC believes that by encouraging the proper disposal of unused prescription opioids, we can help stem the tide of new addicts. Seventy percent of people 12 and older who abuse prescription drugs get them from family or friends (SAMSHA, 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health).
BOAPC has had a billboard campaign about safe disposal of medications, has produced postcards distributed throughout the county that list the locations where medication can be disposed of safely and securely, and has supported the county-wide drug take-back days. Prescription dropbox locations are listed on the BOAPC Facebook page and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission website. Additionally, BOAPC utilizes the services of a Brien Center outreach worker, who engages with clients throughout the county, providing them with information and connecting them to services.
BOAPC will also work on strategies to reduce the consequences of opioid consumption, providing clients with comprehensive information about post overdose services, supporting training for emergency department and crisis staff on connecting post-overdose patients to treatment options, promoting the Good Samaritan Law, and furthering access to expanded Hepatitis C and HIV testing.
One of the major initiatives of BOAPC has been to increase the availability of nasal naloxone (Narcan), an overdose reversal drug, in Berkshire County. Working collaboratively with law enforcement and other community partners, BOAPC continues to advocate for Narcan to be in the hands of all Berkshire County first responders.
Narcan can now be accessed at CVS pharmacies without a prescription, and at Tapestry Health in Pittsfield at no cost.
Narcan is also available for no charge at Learn to Cope meetings. Learn to Cope is a support group for parents, family members, spouses and caregivers with a family member who is addicted to opiates, alcohol or other drugs. Meetings are held at the Hillcrest Campus of Berkshire Health Systems, 1 Tor Court, Pittsfield, on Tuesdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. To learn more about these meetings, visit www.learn2cope.org.
Interested in recovery or other substance abuse services? Call the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Recovery and Information and Education Helpline at 800-327-5050, or get more information online at http://helpline- online.com/.
For more information about the Berkshire Opioid Abuse prevention collaborative, contact: Jennifer L. Kimball, associate planner, Public Health; Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Berkshire Public Health Alliance, MOAPC Coordinator/Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative, firstname.lastname@example.org.