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Berkshire Lawmaker Files Bill to Support Recovering Addicts

A Massachusetts legislator in Berkshire County is sponsoring a bill that would require health insurers in the state to allow victims of substance abuse greater access to recovery treatment.

4th Berkshire District Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, a democrat, is one of four co-sponsors of the so-called healthcare parity bill. The legislation would require health insurance providers in Massachusetts to pay for the continuing treatment of individuals recovering from substance abuse.

Pignatelli, who said that between 80 and 90 percent of those held in the Berkshire County House of Correction are there due to crimes related to substance abuse, said more needs to be made available for their recovery after they are released.

“I would much rather see a young person who makes a nonviolent criminal offense because of substance abuse get into the detox program, like the McGee Unit in Pittsfield for the 5 to 7 days that insurance would cover, and then with continuing care, I would love to see them get into a regular program that’s going to take 25 to 30 days,” said Pignatelli.

The Berkshire County Drug Task Force, administered by the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, has called the prescription drug and heroin abuse problem in the Berkshires an epidemic.

More treatment options are being made available in the county, including a controversial methadone clinic, which distributes a substitute for recovering heroin addicts, opened last Fall in Pittsfield.

But recovery treatment is often expensive, and Pignatelli said that it’s unjust for insurance providers to not assist the families of recovering addicts in finding help.

“To expect the family to go to the detox with insurance but then have to pay out 40 or 50 or 60,000 dollars for a 30 day program at a private facility I think is foolish,” said Pignatelli.

Ananda Timpane, Executive Director of the Railroad Street Youth Project, a Southern Berkshire program which encourages youth community participation and provides support to keep teens and young adults away from drugs and alcohol,  said the bill would have a significant impact.

Timpane said that her organization often encounters youths trying to recover from addiction who cannot find an adequate support system after they return from a correctional program.

Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director of the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in Pittsfield said that because addiction is an active disease, more treatment decreases the likelihood a user will relapse.

Pignatelli said he and his co-sponsors will look for support for the health care parity bill in the house and try to find any supporters of the idea in the state senate. He said while it may remain unpopular due to possibility of raising health care costs, now is the time for Massachusetts to set an example for the rest of the country.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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