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Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Continues Opioid Awareness


The opioid and heroin epidemic is increasingly being felt in emergency rooms and jails across the country. Meanwhile, a community organization in Berkshire County has been focusing on the crisis for some time.The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition recently held a candlelight vigil for victims of addiction in North Adams. Lois Daunis is the coalition’s prevention services director.

“When the people in recovery talk, you can clearly see that even though this is a tough illness there is a path to recovery for those who choose to take it,” said Daunis.

While the gathering of more than 100 people was open for those affected by various addictions, the one most often talked about is heroin or opioid use. Last November, the coalition used one of its monthly forums to focus on crime and substance abuse. Among the panel members was Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless.

“I gave some idea to people here of the approximately 600 percent rise in schedule-2 opioids being prescribed here in Berkshire County over this past 18-year period,” Capeless said. “This is a huge problem. People get addicted to that. They’re very expensive and so they turn to what is now very cheap heroin.”

In March, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in hopes of fighting the opioid epidemic. But it’s clear the crisis does not contain itself inside state borders.  Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated his entire State of the State address to the issue in January. At another Northern Berkshire Community Coalition meeting this past June, Berkshire County Sheriff Tom Bowler explained crime and drugs from New York City have found their way to New England for the past 20 years and heroin is no different.

“Route 91 is a killer for Vermont,” Bowler said. “That’s the transport and that comes from right from Connecticut. So from Connecticut all the up through Vermont we’re all seeing the same problems and the same issues.

A report from a state task force created after the public emergency was declared found some 668 people died from overdoses in 2012 in Massachusetts, a 10 percent increase from the previous year. Capeless also explained how heroin and opioids differ from earlier drug crazes.

“You’re getting a whole class of people who are getting involved as abusers who never would have turned to this before,” Capeless said. “Then in turn you’re getting a whole class of people who are turning to dealing in order sometimes to sustain it or just to make money because they understand this now is something that they can do it with. So you have a whole different dynamic that’s going on here. What is causing the problem and what is causing it to continue and get worse.”

The nbCC has been working on substance abuse prevention for a decade in North County and formed the countywide Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative last year. A forum October 3rd from 10 to noon at the First Baptist Church in North Adams will center directly on opioid addition.

“A lot of it is community education,” Daunis said. “Certainly the drug take back days that we’ve been hosting since 2010 have brought into people’s awareness the importance of disposing of unused and unwanted medications. Not just to keep them out of the hands of potential users, but because we don’t want them in our water supply. It’s also about training prescribers to adapt their prescribing practices. We’ve been doing a lot of work county-wide on that.”

Daunis adds parents also need to know how to talk to their kids about opioids, since it hasn’t been one of those “sit down and let’s talk” topics until very recently.

“Getting kids to understand that just because the doctor prescribes something to somebody in your family doesn’t mean its safe,” Daunis said. “If a doctor gives you 30 pills for a wisdom tooth it doesn’t mean you have to take more than one. Helping them to think about and understand the fact that they’re risky and they’re quickly addictive.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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