North Adams forum addresses drug addiction

Saturday November 10, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- Heroin and prescription drug use is a big problem among people in northern Berkshire County, and many know it -- at least the 118 people who turned out for a forum on the topic in North Adams on Friday.

The forum was organized by Lois Daunis, grants manager and prevention coordinator for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

She said when she began asking people to help plan or to speak at the event, the common response was, "How quickly can I get to this meeting?"

"I think the reason is how quickly these drug problems have gotten [out of] control in the community," said Daunis, whose own son battles with an addiction.

At the end of Friday’s two-hour event, Brandy Whipple said she felt uplifted.

"I didn’t realize so many people cared," said the woman, a recovering addict who is now as student at Westfield State University.

Whipple and her friend Michelle Slater, who has a son recovering from an addiction, said that challenges beyond addiction include the fear and stigma of seeking help and not knowing where to actually go to find support.

"There’s a lot of judgment. People need to hear that they’re worth [being helped]" Slater said.

"And when we ask for help, it’s like surrender. You just want someone to take over and tell you what to do because you’re at your end," Whipple said.

"It’s heartbreaking," said Deborah Durant, director of emergency services and respiratory care at North Adams Regional Hospital. She said the nurses she works with are at a loss to provide addicts additional resources beyond the immediate medical services they’re trained to do.

Durant, Daunis, Whipple and other speakers provided their perspectives on the issue including: Kate Merrigan, UNITY youth program coordinator for Northern Berkshire Community Coalition; Mary Sugden, a substance abuse clinician from the Brien Center; Ann McDonald, from the Berkshire Health Systems Community Pain Management Project; and Cheryl Campbell, a program manager for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Division of Health Care Safety and Quality in Boston.

Detective John LeClair and Lieutenant Brian Foley of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force gave forum attendees the dire details from their experiences investigating drug issues.

When asked about the ease of access and use of the methylphendiate drug known as Ritalin, LeClair said, "Just two days ago, I learned that people are starting to inject it, just like heroin."

Foley described Ritalin as a "compensatory drug" for substances like heroin because it’s widely prescribed and available. It’s a stimulant frequently prescribed to young people suffering from attention deficit disorders.

Both men said they’ve worked on cases where students are selling Ritalin or parents are filling their kids’ prescriptions and using the drug themselves.

LeClair also spoke of a case involving a man obtaining hundreds of prescription opioids like OxyContin and Percocet from multiple clinics in the state of Florida and dealing pills out of the McDonald’s restaurant parking lot in North Adams.

"In one day, he made between $8,000 and $10,000. The biggest thing selling there that day was not cheeseburgers or Big Macs. They had their own drive-thru of sorts," LeClair said.

Following these among other drug issues presented Friday, forum attendees spent the final 30 minutes of the two-hour event to begin brainstorming solutions.

Ideas included creating a pocket-sized card of services and resources for people seeking help with addiction; creating a group of volunteers to sit with addicts in emergency rooms while waiting for care; offering more community education for families about the dangers of drug use and also other positive community activities to become involved in; and installing needle collection boxes in places less intimidating than police stations so, as one forum participant described, needles don’t end up in residents’ mailboxes or school yards.

To get involved with this effort and contribute ideas, contact the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition at or (413) 663-7588.

To reach Jenn Smith:,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink


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