Resource center, naloxone distribution help to combat Berkshire opioid epidemic

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NORTH ADAMS — Since opening its downtown doors June 1, the Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life group has helped 22 people fill out opioid recovery services assistance applications or provided brochures, pamphlets and other information about addiction recovery.

Considering the office is on a three-day-a-week operating schedule, founder Kenna Waterman figures that's just over two people a day. And that does not count the friends and family members seeking help for loved ones.

"And we have people coming to update service applications," Waterman said. "I have people come in and update so that we know that they are still involved with recovery and needing the bus passes or the Sunday taxi ride to get to their appointments."

As opioid abuse continues to destroy lives and tear at families across the Berkshires, efforts are ramping up to combat the epidemic, including Waterman's push to provide resources to people grappling with addiction, and an increase in the availability of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose.

Waterman founded Commit to Save a Life to honor the memory of her son Joshua, who was found dead of gunshot wounds on a Bronx rooftop in May 2014. No one has been charged with the killing but Waterman has said that she believes heroin addiction and her son's role as a confidential police informant led to his death.

The nonprofit initiative pays for prescription medications aiding in addiction recovery, transportation costs to and from doctor or clinic appointments and has helped with rent costs for those residing in sober-living residences. Monetary issues have cause the rent assistance to be reduced for now, she said.

"We do need community support," she said.

An Artists Garden fundraiser was held on Saturday at the Pop Cares Car Show at Harriman and West Airport.

"We had our open house on June 16 and about 40 to 45 people stopped in," she said. "The more our name is out there the more people come to us for help."

North Adams Ambulance Services Assistant Chief Amalio Jusino said that heroin overdose rescue calls are down recently, and naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of an overdose, was used once or twice over the past couple weeks.

Still, Jusino cautioned against believing that the epidemic is waning.

"People have their own Narcan now," he said, referring to a brand name for naloxone. "So we don't necessarily get called for overdoses."

Tapestry Health, drugstores, and other venues are able to distribute naloxone to the general public without a prescription. And a recent grant from the Berkshire District Attorney's Office has provided Berkshire Health Systems with $17,000 to purchase up to 400 doses of naloxone to be distributed at emergency departments across the county for users and their families to keep on hand.

Such measures are likely save lives, Jusino said, but they make it difficult to keep accurate data about overdoses.

"I am very happy that people aren't dying," he said. "Narcan assists communities by decreasing the number of heroin overdose deaths. When that happens without the intervention of emergency responders, we lose that mechanism of tracking."

Folks keeping Narcan in their homes as an emergency medication must learn the correct way to assemble and deliver the mist, he noted. And he issued a cautionary note about the medication's use.

"Narcan does not prevent an overdose," he said. "If you need Narcan, you have overdosed. This is overdose reversal, a fatality prevention, not an overdose prevention."

Stigma and fear help hide addiction and those in treatment may hide that as much as they hid the addiction, Waterman and Jusino said.

"There are families and individuals who allow loved ones to do heroin or opiates in their house knowing that they have Narcan and believing it is a safe environment," Jusino said. "To them, having Narcan available and letting their loved one do heroin in the house is better than being on the street doing it or going to jail for doing it."

Waterman spoke of a person in their middle-age years in recovery who struggles with anxiety about the treatment being discovered.

"This is an educated person with a good job," she said. "You don't hear a lot of success stories partly because people have homes and jobs, they pulled themselves up from nothing and they can't celebrate recovery because of fear of judgement."

The need for additional Narcotics Anonymous meetings and a Northern Berkshire-based sober living facility is great, she said.

"Communities need to become recovering communities," she said.


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