NORTH ADAMS — When the Brien Center suspended its addiction day treatment program this year, its leaders pledged to "shift gears" and create new programs.

Now, they have followed through, launching an "Early Recovery Group" that meets three days a week. The group is open to any Brien Center client and aimed not only at those new to recovery, but to those who have an interest in getting sober.

And unlike the day treatment program that was suspended due to low enrollment, attendance in the new group is not mandatory.

"It's drop-in, and people can be in different stages of recovery, which can include contemplating recovery, because we know people sometimes struggle to commit to sobriety," said Megan Eldridge Wroldson, director of Adult Outpatient Services Division at the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse. "We want to acknowledge that folks come in with different levels of commitment to sobriety."

But she stressed that people who are presently high or intoxicated may not participate in the group.

"We've always worked with the understanding that addiction is a relapsing and chronic condition ... so people are going to go back and forth between different stages of use and recovery," Wroldson said.

As the opioid epidemic has taken hold locally, an array of treatment centers like the Brien Center, organizations like the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and community activists have worked in recent years to build up a recovery infrastructure in the Northern Berkshires. In North Adams alone, 23 people died from an opioid overdose from 2013 to 2017 — it's a figure that could rise as cases are reviewed by medical examiners — according to the state Department of Public Health.

"I think that this is the kind of thing that can meet that need to help people work on getting the skills and get the support they need for their recovery," said Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

The previous day treatment program was tailored to those new to recovery and who have left a residential treatment setting. It ran from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., daily attendance was mandated, and it required a firm commitment to sobriety — with drug testing conducted through urine screens.

"This is less structured, but because it is less structured, perhaps we can cast a wider net," Wroldson said.

Penner said it's clear the Brien Center worked to lower the bar of entry into day treatment.

"I think it's a great thing, I think it can meet the needs of the people that that program was hoping to target — but, hopefully, reach more people," Penner said.

Similar to the former group, the early recovery group will be largely focused on relapse prevention and harm reduction.

The early recovery group is just one of several mental health and addiction groups that have been offered continuously by the Brien Center in North Adams, ranging from therapy for Suboxone patients to anger management. Suboxone is a medication used to treat those with substance abuse disorders.

"Any day for the week, we're offering at least two groups for mental health and addiction," Wroldson said.

Though Penner welcomed the new program, she noted that "as a stand-alone, it's still really not enough," and noted that the area still needs recovery housing and that a grassroots effort to open a community recovery center is in progress.

Before moving into the Brien Center's location on American Legion Drive for its final year of existence, the former day treatment program was hosted under the Neighborhood for Health umbrella in the North Adams Campus of Berkshire Medical Center for two years.

But the program was unable to maintain a steady enrollment, Brien Center officials told The Eagle after suspending it.

The Brien Center will bill insurances for the treatment, but Wroldson noted that it also works with the Department of Public Health so that "payment should not be a barrier."

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.