Our Opinion: South Berkshire not immune to opioid addiction

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Sadly, many families know firsthand what is necessary to help a loved one understand that they have a substance abuse problem: intervention. Until that person can accept that they are in need of help, attempts to treat them are usually in vain.

The same is true of a town or region; in this case, Great Barrington and South County, many of whose residents labor under the misconception that they remain comfortably tucked away from the mental health and substance abuse problems that plague the rest of the Berkshires and the nation as a whole. To compound the matter, those even willing to acknowledge that South County is not immune in this sphere often don't realize that a trip to Pittsfield isn't necessary; treatment options exist right in their back yard.

It's true that the Brien Center, the county's nonprofit mental health and substance addiction treatment agency, has its headquarters in Pittsfield, but its reach is regional. The center maintains facilities in Williamstown, North Adams, Pittsfield and, yes, even on Cottage Street in Great Barrington.

One of the center's toughest problems to overcome is erasing the stigma associated with behavioral problems. According to Robert McGraw, a Berkshire County sheriff's deputy who serves on his agency's Opiate Task Force, "[Great Barrington] has huge opioid addiction issues." This may not be what South County residents want to hear, but effective treatment of individuals requires a focused effort by the entire community, beginning with an understanding that behavioral problems are a medical issue — no different from more visible afflictions, and no more deserving of condemnation.

Earlier this week, state Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli, who represents the area, convened a group of involved professionals in Great Barrington to discuss the challenges facing behavioral treatment in the Berkshires. He was blunt in addressing a chronic problem — a shortage of treatment money — and acknowledged that more state mental health aid will not be forthcoming. He succeeded in using his pulpit to raise consciousness about a pressing issue. The meeting knocked a chip out of the monolith of ignorance and prejudice surrounding mental health issues, particularly in South County, and if the opioid addiction battle is to be won it will require acceptance that addiction afflicts rich and poor, rural and urban, and all ethnic and demographic groups. No one is immune.

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