Like much of the country, western Massachusetts is dealing with a substantial increase in opioid and substance abuse. While traditional medical providers are looking at ways to address the issue, a nonprofit in North Adams is doing what it can to help people recover from addiction.
The Joshua Bressette Commit To Save A Life initiative is now operating a recovery and support center at 61 Main Street in North Adams. The nonprofit was formed in May 2014 after Bressette, who grew up in North Adams and would be 28 years old, was murdered in New York City. His mother, Kenna Waterman, believes Bressette’s death was related to heroin addiction and her son’s role as a police informant.
“I started it because I didn’t know about his [Josh’s] addiction for a long time,” Waterman said. “I had a feeling that there was something going on with prescription pain pills. He’d been prescribed when he broke his jaw. I had a feeling something was going on, but I wasn’t sure. It was probably six months before he was murdered that I found out that he was addicted to heroin and I couldn’t believe it. I knew nothing about heroin addiction [or] how to help him. Had I known what I know now I might’ve been able to help him. I basically just wanted to make sure that what happened to Josh didn’t happen to anybody else if I could help it. If I could help save one person.”
Over the past two years, the nonprofit has raised roughly $40,000 – utilizing $35,000 of it – to help people recover from opioid and heroin addiction.
“We provide monthly bus passes and we pay for taxi transportation to detox and rehab,” Waterman explained. “We pay for clinic copays and fees, medication-assisted treatment and prescriptions, sometimes copays and sometimes the whole prescription. We pay for sober living homes – the first month and up to half of the second month.”
The North Adams office opened June 1st. It’s run by volunteers including Waterman, who has made the nonprofit a full-time endeavor. It aims to connect people with treatment resources, while serving as a place for people who are addicted to opioids and their families to talk to others with similar experiences.
“We’re not doctors,” Waterman said. “We’re just people that have experience. That have been there. That have children who have been addicted. Children in recovery. We have life experience.”
The center is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 2 and by appointment. Waterman says she hopes to expand the hours and services offered, including recovery meetings, therapy and job search assistance.
Between 2000 and 2015, an estimated 142 people died from unintentional opioid overdoses in Berkshire County, according to May 2016 data from the state Department of Public Health. Ninety-four of those deaths occurred between 2012 and 2015.
Similar efforts across the region are endeavoring to combat the crisis as well—the George Crane Memorial Center is looking to expand its peer recovery support center in Pittsfield. An estimated 700 people attend meetings and seek support at the Linden Street location.
Moreover, Berkshire Medical Center plans to open a 30-bed, post-detox recovery unit where people can stay for up to 30 days in the first week of July. Dr. Alex Sabo, who chairs BMC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, says the Pittsfield location will be the first of its kind in Berkshire County.
“After a detox, which might take three to five days, a patient then in the past might be going back out into an environment where they would get less support or they might be exposed to other people using alcohol or drugs,” said Sabo.
Across the state border in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently launched an opioid task force to develop a comprehensive plan to combat the addiction crisis there. And in Vermont, Governor Peter Shumlin expanded the treatment options for heroin addiction and has been leading a coalition of New England states in appealing to Congress for the expansion of medical professionals licensed to prescribe addiction treatment medications like Suboxone.