As Congress and leaders across the country try to figure out the best ways to combat a rise in opioid and heroin use, there is a push for an expanded peer-driven recovery center in Pittsfield.
Between 2000 and 2014, an estimated 108 people died from unintentional opioid overdoses in Berkshire County, according to January 2016 data from the state department of public health. Sixty of those deaths occurred between 2012 and 2014.
“I don’t think we can waste much more time,” McGinnis said. “I really don’t.”
Mary McGinnis serves on the board of directors of the George Crane Memorial Center in Pittsfield. The all-volunteer center is a substance-free gathering place for support groups, mainly those addressing addiction. Now the center is seeking state recognition as a peer recovery support facility, which brings with it funding from the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. McGinnis says the goal is to raise $100,000 with the hopes of expanding its services within 6 months or a year. So far, they’ve raised $3,000.
“Funding is probably our biggest obstacle right now,” McGinnis said. “We are working with our State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and hopefully the Department of Public Health to be on the line item for next year’s funding. We’ve also reached out to the community.”
McGinnis recently helped convene a public forum with keynote speaker Debbie Flynn-Gonzalez, program director of Hope for Holyoke. It is one of 10 state recognized peer recovery centers in Massachusetts. The RECOVER Project in Greenfield is the only other one in the western part of the commonwealth. Flynn-Gonzalez says about 250 people have come through the Holyoke center since it opened about a year ago.
“It could be someone who might still be in active use and is not quite ready for treatment but keep coming and then they want treatment and we help facilitate that,” Flynn-Gonzalez explained. “Down to somebody with 40 years of sobriety who wants to give back. They all function together is this peer community helping each other. So the peers are the ones who do all the work. That’s the beauty of the model because no one can do it better as someone who’s walked in their shoes.”
Flynn-Gonzalez says the center’s members make all the decisions including how to allocate funding and what programs to pursue. Hope for Holyoke does not provide any clinical care or treatment beds, but is rather a support center.
“It’s very cost-effective because it’s not a clinical service,” she said. “And it’s really effective for treatment. There are good positive outcomes. We know there’s an epidemic. We can beat ourselves in the head to say ‘Why? What’s going on? We have this. We have that. And all these great clinical interventions. Why isn’t it working?’ Because they need more than that. We can give the greatest intervention invented by the greatest psychologist around and if they come out after having done that to nothing, it’s not going work.
Flynn-Gonzalez says Hope for Holyoke is implementing measures to track recovery success, but already sees positive outcomes since many of the 50 daily visitors are the same people who were coming when the center first opened.
Adam Hinds heads the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and is involved with an anti-violence effort in Pittsfield. Hinds, who is running for state senate, says the Berkshires could benefit from a full-fledged peer recovery center.
“It’s a need that’s been identified,” Hinds said. “There’s a gap that often happens between the time when somebody leaves a detox environment. We’ve been working to fill the clinically-supported services beds, which is our longer-term [treatment], here in Pittsfield. And there is a transitional house, but there are a limited number of beds. The question has always been ‘What happens afterwards?’ The recovery coaches are a growing model.”
Pittsfield’s George Crane Memorial Center estimates more than 700 people attend meetings and seek support at its Linden Street location.