Related | Panel discussion at BCC probes 'solutions in our community' to addiction

PITTSFIELD — Following a tour of two addiction treatment facilities in Pittsfield, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said pending federal legislation will expand funding to address what even a divided Congress now sees as a critical need.

The Springfield Democrat made stops at Berkshire Medical Center, which recently opened a 30-bed in-patient treatment facility, and at the George B. Crane Memorial Center for addiction recovery services, which hopes to hire its first staff member if proposed state funding survives the budget process.

At the Crane Center on Linden Street, Neal told center board members, Mayor Linda M. Tyer, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and others that the extent of the substance abuse crisis is reflected in the recent agreement in the U.S. House and Senate on a funding bill that will allow grants to expand addiction treatment services.

He said both BMC and the Crane Center appear to be "well-positioned" because of the track record of existing programs and a demonstrable need in the county to apply for the federal funding.

"BMC has been out in front on this," Neal added, referring to the new treatment unit, which provides clinical support for up to a month, often following detoxification at BMC's McGee Recovery Center.


Consensus was reached in Congress despite deep divisions in both chambers, Neal said, in part because "everybody knows someone or has a family member" struggling with addiction, "so there is wide support for what we are trying to do.

"There is an acknowledgement," he added. "This is a time when Congress is as polarized as ever, and this got passed."

Neal said the problem crosses economic and social lines, as he described the too-common situation of a man — in that case a police officer — who became addicted to prescription pain medication and then heroin and later landed in the house of correction.

Farley-Bouvier, who proposed $75,000 to cover conversion of the Crane Center from an all-volunteer program getting by on donations to one with a paid coordinator and annual state funding, said she remains optimistic the funding will make it into the final state budget for fiscal 2017.

After the budget earmark survived in the Legislature-approved $39.1 billion spending plan, the item was one of a number vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

"I'm confident we will override that," Farley-Bouvier said Tuesday.

She added that, as on the federal level, there is widespread support for addiction services across the state, including from the governor's office, the Legislature, the attorney general's office and at the local level.

There are 10 similar support centers now receiving annual funding through the state Department of Public Health, and the goal is to create one here.

The Crane Center, which is open daily, provides meeting space for about 20 peer-to-peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The center, which opened in 2010, is a once-dilapidated building that has been restored by volunteers with donated funding.

"One of the things that impresses me here," Neal said said of the renovated building, "is the work of the volunteers."

Center board President Douglas Malins said the message he would "like to see go back to Washington" is that the type of comprehensive, non-clinical recovery support that peer groups provide must be available after the initial detoxification or clinical services or addicts will often return to drugs or alcohol.

On Tuesday evening, Neal and Tyer presented a screening of the HBO documentary "Heroin: Cape Cod USA" at Berkshire Community College. A panel discussion followed.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.