New Berkshire Medical Center unit to provide longer-term treatment for opioid addictions

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PITTSFIELD — Drug- and alcohol-dependent Berkshire residents seeking emergency treatment typically get less than five days at an in-patient facility.

Less than five days in treatment, then back out on the streets, inhabiting the homes and rooms where the problems were forged, receiving phone calls from the same friends who watched, or actively participated, when it all went down.

Longer-term, live-in facilities are no closer than Springfield and are booked up with weeks-to-months-long waiting lists.

What chance do the addicted have at a fresh start after less than five days? Science and statistics say, not a good one.

So it was with relief that Berkshire Medical Center on Tuesday announced plans to provide some patchwork for a glaring hole in the county's continuum of care.

State approval has been obtained, with funding soon to follow, for a 30-bed Clinical Stabilization Services unit to "increase [sufferers'] chances for success after completing an initial detoxification program at the McGee Recovery Center at BMC."

There, patients will receive 14 to 30 days of treatment, including behavior modification and anxiety reduction therapy, even assistance in obtaining housing, managing finances and crafting an effective resume.

"This service really fills the gap between detoxification and long-term recovery," said Brenda Cadorette, the hospital's vice president of acute care. "There's currently no transition for our patients who have gone through detox."

A recent report from Castlight Health, which analyzed the health data of almost a million people covered by employer insurance, found Pittsfield to be the fifth worst city in the country in percentage of opioid prescriptions abused. Yet it lacks critical infrastructure to deal with such a problem.

Addicts receive initial detoxification treatment and an on-average 4.2-day stay at McGee, then they're out the door. McGee discharges between five and six people per day.

In 2014, overdoses killed 27 county residents, and in 2015, there were 35.

BMC treated a total of 160 people for overdoses in 2015, saving many lives by administering Narcan, a medication used to block the effects of opioids.

Cadorette said, "I hear desperation from families, because there's no place for [loved ones] to go. Parents are desperate to get their children services, but there's none in this community."

Alex Sabo, chairman of the hospital's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, said the mere existence of such a service already increases the likelihood of an addict trying to recover by providing hope.

"Addiction injures the brain, and those changes don't go away quickly," Sabo said. "When we detox somebody, they're in a state of partial recovery. They need time. What they need is a safe place where no people are using drugs or alcohol, and to keep working on their recovery programs."

He added, "I couldn't be happier about having these 30 beds."

The Brien Center runs a 24-bed recovery home called Keenan House, but the house is ideally the third step along the path of recovery, after detoxification and a period of Clinical Stabilization Services. And the Keenan House has a perpetual waiting list of considerable length.

M. Christine Macbeth, CEO of The Brien Center, called the CSS beds soon to be located at BMC a "perfect fit" and "much-needed."

"People come out of detox and still need a higher level of care than a residential recovery home can provide," Macbeth said. "This clinical support and stabilization unit will clearly benefit the continuum of care we are developing here in Berkshire County."

BMC spokesman Michael Leary said he could not give an exact time frame for how long it will take to open the beds and staff the unit.

The new unit will be located in the Jones Building, where McGee was formerly located before it moved into the main hospital.

Even with the 30 beds, need will still outstrip supply by far. At the current rate of patients being discharged from McGee, the 30 beds could be filled every week.

Diane Kelly, the hospital's chief operating officer, said, "We will look at this program's successes, continue to assess the need and decide how best to grow this."

The Brien Center has also applied to the state to expand the Keenan House by adding 16 beds specifically for women, but has yet to receive a response. The Berkshire Health Systems board of trustees has pledged to provide $500,000 to The Brien Center for the expansion, if approved by the state.

More than 6,000 Massachusetts residents died from opioid and heroin addiction in the past 10 years, and the Berkshires rate of opiate overdoses has dramatically increased since 2010.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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