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Berkshire DA candidates spar over debate events while sheriff candidates revisit their records on substance abuse treatment

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Berkshire District Attorney candidate Timothy Shugrue, right, is calling for current DA Andrea Harrington to stop “ducking debates,” in a statement issued this week.

Editor’s note: The Berkshire Eagle will bring readers updates on candidates and campaigns ahead of the Sept. 6 primary elections.

Berkshire District AttorneyBerkshire District Attorney candidate Timothy Shugrue is calling for current DA Andrea Harrington to stop “ducking debates,” in a statement issued this week.

Shugrue alleges that the incumbent has intentionally refused to accept invitations to debate-style events and is “taking the easy way out.”

“The voters of Berkshire County deserve to hear from both of us, in a fair forum,” Shugrue said in the statement. “I’ve accepted at least six invitations from core institutions in the Berkshires like the [Berkshire] Eagle. I urge my opponent ... to agree to these debates and face the voters.”

Harrington’s campaign responded in turn.

“In the waning days of [Shugrue’s] failing campaign, he is claiming to be interested in engaging on issues,” the statement read in part. “District Attorney Harrington is excited to participate in numerous forums and debates between now and the Primary, including the NAACP forum this coming week. She is seeking the Democratic nomination and will not participate in forums being run by right wingers.”

The campaign did not publicly clarify who the “right wingers” were.

The candidates will meet in a virtual forum hosted by the local branch of the NAACP, local branches of the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. The event is set for Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. via Zoom, and requires prior registration at tinyurl.com/y56snnv8.

Meanwhile, Harrington’s campaign touted a list of new North County endorsements.

During a Harrington campaign event on July 25, the DA received endorsements from North Adams City Councilors Marie Harpin and Michael Obasohan, Adams City Councilor Howard Rosenberg, Adams School Committee member Erin Grady Milne, McCann School Committee member Diane Parsons, and Williamstown Select Board member Randy Fippinger and Planning Board member Stephanie Boyd.

The group also included local community leaders Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, Bilal Ansari, Wendy Penner, Jessica Dils and former Williamstown Select Board member Anne O’Connor.

Berkshire County Sheriff

The candidates for Berkshire County sheriff sparred in dueling press releases this week regarding the use of medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder.

In a prepared statement Tuesday, a spokesperson for sheriff hopeful Alfred E. “Alf” Barbalunga accused Sheriff Thomas Bowler of “wast[ing] nearly an entire decade before accepting Medication Assistance Therapy (MAT) for inmates struggling with drug addiction.”

Spokesperson Kathy Yon said Bowler “dragged his feet and openly expressed opposition to such programs.” She linked to an article that quoted Bowler in 2012 asking officials from Spectrum Health Systems how they would ensure a methadone clinic wouldn’t attract unwanted loitering.

“How are you going to schedule that,” Bowler asked, according to iBerkshires, “so we don’t have a venue that has an enormous amount of lower-class people that are addicted hanging around those people’s residential areas, or similar places?”

“Tragically, during nearly ten years of resisting the data and advice to administer MAT, Bowler left Berkshire inmates addicted to opioids with no access to medication assistance treatment,” said Barbalunga in the press release, “just Bowler’s notion of abstinence.”

A spokesperson for Bowler, in a statement responding to Barbalunga, said that it was no secret that Bowler “was not immediately sold on MAT.”

“In my own conversations with inmates,” Bowler said in the prepared release, “some wanted an opportunity while in jail to get clean and not become beholden to another daily drug.”

“They did not want a drug — a drug to replace a drug,” he added. “To them, it seemed like a never-ending cycle of drug consumption.”

Bowler’s spokesperson Donna Mattoon said that he and other Massachusetts sheriffs “received more training and guidance on the issue,” and, subsequently, Bowler’s “attitude changed.”

Mattoon said MAT was piloted by sheriffs in 2018, and before then, “only one of the thirteen Sheriff Offices were offering full MAT services.”

Following a decision in a federal court case the following year, MAT treatment became mandatory, and “the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office immediately began to tackle the legal procedures required for administering Methadone outside of a licensed clinic setting.”

“The result was that the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office became one of the first of the non-pilot programs to achieve full certification as a licensed treatment facility by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health,” she said.

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