NORTH ADAMS — An inpatient detox unit in Northern Berkshire might be beneficial to the community in its ongoing struggle with opioid addiction, but there are other needs that should be addressed as well.
That was the consensus during a public meeting on Monday to discuss a health care advocacy group's push for inpatient addiction services at Berkshire Medical Center's North Adams campus. The meeting was held by the City Council's Public Safety Committee.
"It's striking; [addiction is in] every town in the state," said Jim Lipa, a leader of the North County Cares Coalition. "We're all fighting the same fight."
The nonprofit organization in April presented to the City Council a Massachusetts Nurses Association report that contends there is an acute need for additional addiction services in the community. It was accompanied by a proposed resolution calling on Berkshire Health Systems and state officials to bring inpatient detox beds to North County.
The council referred the matter to the Public Safety Committee for further discussion, review and wider community input from various stakeholders. Among those in attendance for Monday's meeting were officials from the North Adams Ambulance Service, North Adams Police Department, and Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.
The committee did not take a position on the resolution, instead opting to allow the group to amend it before returning to the full City Council later this month.
The meeting was partly a procedural dive into how best to advocate for more services and partly group catharsis for those who have suffered the impact of drug addiction first-hand.
The coalition, which emerged following the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in 2014, cited a 2014 report that identified a need for 10 inpatient beds for opioid addiction treatment. And it noted there are hundreds of people in the North Adams area actively seeking assistance for addiction.
While there was broad agreement that the area has seen a sharp rise in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction, participants aired a variety of views.
Councilor and committee member Kate Merrigan said she tends to look for "nuanced solutions" and didn't want to do anything that would be perceived as a slight to Berkshire Health Systems. However, she added "my responsibility is to elevate the voices of people we represent and it sounds very clear to me that this is a resolution that has a lot of support."
But other community leaders warned that an expansion of those services into North Adams might not be a magic wand and noted the several gaps in a "continuum of care."
"It's not just 'Do we need these beds here;' it's 'What are all the things that we need in Berkshire County and do we have them,' " said Wendy Penner, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's director of prevention programs. "It's important to be looking at a region—our whole region is underserved."
Berkshire Health Systems, the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, has noted that there are a plethora of addiction services under its umbrella and offered by other providers, including several in North Adams.
Berkshire Medical Center operates the McGee Recovery Unit in Pittsfield, which has a capacity of 21 beds and is occupied by 17 patients on average. A 30-bed clinical stabilization services unit was also recently approved and will provide treatment in Pittsfield to those who have already completed detox but require longer care. Similar services are coming online in Greenfield, officials noted.
A $500,000 investment was also recently approved by Berkshire Health Systems for investment in an expansion of the Brien Center's current recovery home in Pittsfield.
In North Adams, there is a suboxone clinic, a methadone clinic, and the Brien Center offers day treatment to those suffering from addiction. Berkshire Medical Center offers addiction services during the day through its Neighborhood for Health in North Adams.
But those seeking inpatient care need to reach Pittsfield for treatment, and the coalition has argued that access is a struggle for many of North County's most vulnerable residents who suffer from addiction disorders.
Timothy Morey, the Clerk-Magistrate at Northern Berkshire District Court for the past 14 years, illuminated the opioid epidemic's impact on the court system and spoke in favor of the resolution.
Morey said the area is "sorely in need" of a treatment facility like the North County Cares Coalition is proposing.
"Quite frankly. I think in Berkshire County as a whole, we're more in need of maybe 50 to 100 beds," Morey said.
He also advocated for a drug court in the Berkshires that could deal specifically with drug-related incidents.
North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio noted that since the officers and firefighters became equipped with the overdose reversal drug naloxone in April, they have made 11 saves and administered 16 doses.
"We're doing our best to try to save a life, that's our primary mission," Cozzaglio said. "The avenue of help thru Narcotics Anonymous, treatment facilities, detox centers, is very difficult."
Penner suggested that the advocates consider the many needs of the community surrounding the opioid issue, and that "We not mistakenly focus on think that bringing clinical services to the hospital campus is in any way going to really solve our problems.
"In fact, I may argue that there are many things we could be doing and we should have a comprehensive plan to address this," Penner said.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.