Photo Gallery | 28th annual Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Meeting


WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Northern Berkshire community will need to rely on its own resiliency in the fight against opiate abuse in conjunction with new state policies.

State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, gave this message as the keynote speaker at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's 28th annual meeting on Tuesday.

"The sense of community in this room today ... is something far more powerful than any program, far more transformative than any law written in any book," he said to a crowd of 200 at the Williams Inn.


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Downing filled in as a last-minute speaker on behalf of his colleague, Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan, D-Leominster, chair of the state Special Committee on Drug Abuse and Treatment Options, who needed to be in Boston for budget hearings. Downing's message to the coalition was delivered the same day Gov. Deval Patrick announced a statewide plan for dealing with opiate abuse, which Patrick declared as a public health emergency back in March.

"Over the last five years, and in particular the last two, we have seen the issue of substance abuse ... touch every corner of the commonwealth," Downing said.

The senator laid out the findings and the actions that came out of the special committee's hearings, one of which was held in North Adams.

The initiatives include requiring insurance reimbursements for licensed alcohol and drug counselors and the creation of a website that aids individuals in finding services.

Downing highlighted work already being done at the coalition as being part of the solution; the organization has played a role in collecting data on attitudes toward and use of prescription drugs, as well as alcohol and tobacco.

"If we just shrug our shoulders and say it's too big, then no one else is going to do [the work]. These are our problems," Downing said. But he said the region's ability to come together is its strength in helping to solve its problems.

During Tuesday's meeting, the organization also honored Becky Miner, of Zumba in the Berkshires, with the Northern Berkshire Hero Award.

Miner, who founded the dance-exercise studio in 2010, was honored for her generous spirit -- she and her students have raised roughly $30,000 for local charities and offered free classes to employees of the former North Adams Regional Hospital when the hospital closed this spring.

Coalition Executive Director Al Bashevkin also spoke to the closing of the hospital and its impact on the region. But like many problems, it can't be fixed by simply wishing it away, he said. He expressed optimism that an outside study paid for by the state would provide a clear path to sustainable health care services for the region.

"By putting the pieces in place, we can begin to heal the [area's] wounds," he said.

To reach Edward Damon:
edamon@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 663-3741, ext 224.
On Twitter: @BE_EDamon