North County Cares Coalition asks Berkshire Medical Center for detox center

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NORTH ADAMS — With the region still in the throes of an epidemic of opioid addiction, a Northern Berkshire advocacy group is asking Berkshire Medical Center to open an inpatient detox center in its North Adams campus.

The North County Cares Coalition on Tuesday presented to the City Council a report containing sobering statistics about the rise of opioid addiction in the North Adams area. The report states that many of the hundreds of addicts there don't have adequate access to a detox unit at BMC's main campus in Pittsfield.

"Immediate action by Berkshire Health Systems to address this issue is important," said Nykole Roach, a strategic researcher who conducted the study on behalf of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

Supported by the MNA, the North County Cares Coalition was formed in the wake of North Adams Regional Hospital's closure in 2014. Its members advocate for restored health care services in the Northern Berkshires.

The group's report was released on the same day Berkshire Medical Center announced expanded substance abuse disorder services at its Pittsfield location, with longer-term treatments now available following detox.

The coalition notes that statewide efforts to combat the addiction crisis have included trying to reduce of over-prescription of opiates, as well as increasing availability to naloxone, a drug that counteracts overdoses. Locally, the report states, Berkshire Medical Center has expanded access to substance abuse care in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and now "must take concrete steps to address opioid addiction in Northern Berkshire County with a full range of services."

Berkshire Medical Center provides addiction services at its North Adams campus, but only on an outpatient basis. Through its Neighborhood For Health, which opened in 2015, a team of addiction specialists provides a detox program and group therapy services built for those who have recently completed detox.

The McGee Recovery Center at BMC has 21 beds available for detox, and its average patient volume per day is 17, according to Berkshire Health Systems, the hospital's parent company.

The report found a 47 percent increase in the total number of North Adams residents seeking addiction treatment of any kind between 2005 and 2014. During that same span, the percentage of patients specifically asking for help with an opioid addiction in North Adams grew from 17 percent to 55 percent.

A study conducted in the wake of the closure of NARH, often cited by the union and coalition in their arguments for restored services, noted there is an existing need for 10 to 11 inpatient substance abuse treatment beds in the Northern Berkshires. NARH did not have inpatient substance abuse disorder services at the time of its closing.

The coalition also argues that many in North Adams lack adequate access to transportation and other support systems for treatment elsewhere.

"They should not have to struggle to get access to addiction treatment," the report states. "[Berkshire Medical Center] must provide inpatient substance abuse treatment beds in North Adams."

Councilor Lisa Blackmer noted that when the Southern Berkshires faced a similar epidemic more than a decade ago, various community groups came together to fight it and did not rely solely on the hospital.

"It's an interesting report, and I appreciate it, but I think some of this other stuff is important and I think sometimes information can be skewed to what you want to present," Blackmer said, noting that it was conducted by a group that has advocated for additional health care services at BMC in North Adams.

Mayor Richard Alcombright noted there is a prescription drug and heroin abuse task force working through the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition to address many of the same issues.

Though he recognized its importance, Alcombright noted that detox is only one step in the recovery process.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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