PITTSFIELD — With the addition of four new staff members, the Brien Center will be expanding its outreach services to homeless individuals, those transitioning out of jail, and overdose patients served in emergency rooms.

The Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services awarded the Brien Center $600,000 over two years to hire a nurse, program supervisor, clinician and recovery coach to serve these vulnerable populations.

"What's wonderful about the funding is, it allows us to address some of the critical gaps in care for people with this disease," said Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director of the center. "We will be able to provide immediate community-based treatment after an overdose. Patients will be offered evidence-based medications in addition to individual and group therapies for opioid use disorders. These interventions are often lifesaving."

The Brien Center will be using the money to expand its new "bridge program" between Berkshire Health Systems and the Brien Center. The organizations have teamed up to start offering buprenorphine, a drug to treat opioid addictions, to individuals experiencing an overdose in the emergency room.

Before this program, patients were treated for their overdose in the emergency room, usually though an overdose-reversal drug like Narcan, and then referred for medication-assisted treatment at the Brien Center, Michaels said. They would often decline the outside services, she said.

By getting the buprenorphine started for those who want it in the emergency room, it will immediately begin to fight cravings, help with withdrawals and get people moving toward a path to recovery, she said. After they get their initial dose in the ER, they are expected to follow up at the Brien Center outpatient programs in Great Barrington, Pittsfield or North Adams to continue with buprenorphine, she said.

The new staff also will reach out to those transitioning out of the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction and the homeless population to get them into wrap-around addiction services that they can remain in for as long as necessary, said Megan Wroldson, director of the Adult Outpatient Services Division.

The Brien Center is in the process of hiring for these positions.

"This is a unique opportunity," Wroldson said. "We're the only folks west of Worcester who got this expansion grant, so we're pretty excited to do that."

The grant, which is distributed by the state, is supported by federal funding, Wroldson said.

"It's going to be interesting, because we will be giving data to the state, which will be passed along to the federal government," she said. "I think it will paint a picture of the need in Berkshire County."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.