Remedies to the problem of drug addiction are as complex as its causes. They're also expensive; to be effective, they need to include counseling, prevention, education, assessment, therapy and myriad other specialized services like residential care, which is costly. In Berkshire County, those services are synonymous with the Brien Center, which is the county's main line of defense in battling an unprecedented epidemic of substance abuse compounded by the national opioid addiction crisis.
The Brien Center's budget relies mainly upon state funding. The commonwealth's addiction problem, however, has grown so rapidly that funds appropriated by Beacon Hill haven't kept up with demand. Of particular concern are adolescents, who lack the maturity to make responsible decisions about drug use that could negatively impact the balance of their lives. The Brien Center's work in prevention and education are critically important, but salvaging and rehabilitating lives already damaged by substance abuse is a necessary component of their mission as well.
Little did grieving parents John and Rosaleen Miller know in 2005, when they created the Brien Center's Patrick Miller Substance Abuse Prevention Program in memory of their son's death from a heroin overdose, that the agency they established would eventually become so critical to the welfare of Berkshire adolescents. Their timing was indeed fortuitous, since the opioid crisis had not yet reached its peak in the Berkshires by that year. Since then, the Brien Center's Miller Program has become the go-to agency for all matters involving youth drug treatment and prevention, and the center's evidence-based approach has proved to at least slow the increase of youth substance abuse where it has been implemented.
The Donald C. McGraw Foundation, a New York City-based charitable organization with a Berkshires connection, has just awarded the Miller Program a $50,000 grant, which will enable the center to extend and intensify its treatment efforts throughout the county (Eagle, June 6.) That the foundation tends to concentrate on health care and medical research is an acknowledgement as well as a reaffirmation of the change in the way substance abuse has been and ought to be managed: as a public health crisis rather than a mass moral failing. It's also a confirmation that, in the eyes of donors, the Brien Center delivers a positive return on their investment.
One of the difficulties the Brien Center faces is that youth in the early stages of addiction tend to resist attempts to help them, so making sure its operatives create a presence at all levels of community life, including in schools and even families, can make an enormous difference in providing youth with the judgmental tools necessary to be their own guardians against addictive behaviors. For this, the McGraw Foundation grant is a critical resource that will enable such in-depth involvement.
South Egremont resident Robin McGraw, who is senior director of the McGraw foundation, explained his organization's motive for its generous donation succinctly: "We need to make Berkshire County a strong treatment and recovery community — a place where it is easier to get treatment than it is to get high. Right now, the opposite is the case." The realization of Mr. McGraw's goal cannot occur without a full-court-press effort on the part of the Brien Center, donors and every Berkshires resident who cares about the future of the county as embodied in its young people.
Let us hope that the McGraw Foundation's generosity inspires other organizations and reassures them that any monies donated to the Brien Center's Miller Program will have a positive and measurable impact. Ideally, Beacon Hill will see this effort as evidence of the community's commitment to addressing this epidemic and respond by providing the Berkshires with the state funding critical to its success.