The club meets monthly through most of the year to discuss topics of local interest.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Maple Grove Civic Club was updated on how the opioid epidemic is affecting the county from both the public health and law enforcement perspective.
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's Health Planner Jennifer Kimball and Police Chief Richard Tarsa were invited to speak at the monthly club meeting on Sunday at the PNA and they fielded questions about drug abuse in the Berkshires.
"Every community regardless of size or make up is affected by this. There is no discrimination when it comes to the drug issues and it affects every single race, person, family and society as a whole," Tarsa said. "No one is immune from it. You have 18-year-old kids you have 67-year-old adults."
First to speak was Kimball, who explained what her organization, the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative, does. The collaborative focuses on disseminating information that it hopes will prevent the misuse of prescription drugs as well as offer information to those seeking treatment.
"What we are talking about here is a public health approach to opioid addiction and misuse and we are talking about shifting the environment and the way we do things in Berkshire County," she said. "It is not just opioid addiction but addiction and other mental health issues as a whole."
She said primary prevention is about trying to prevent people from getting addicted to substances in the first place and noted one action the group has taken is in partnership with Berkshire Health Systems. She said those who have been prescribed Schedule 1 or 2 drugs will receive an informational pamphlet.
"We give information about what you are taking and the fact that it is addictive," Kimball said. "Also, how important it is to have a pain management plan with your doctor and plan to reduce use or stop as soon as possible ... the risk of becoming addicted to an opioid increases at four or five days."
She said another huge part of prevention is straight education and trying to get people to understand that addiction is a mental illness and should be treated as such.
"Addiction is a mental health issue and I don't think you need to separate those anymore," she said. "We understand that the Nancy Reagan approach of just 'say no' doesn't work and mental illness, addiction, stigma, trauma and all of those things play into this."
Kimball said they also look to help those already struggling with addiction and have developed a pamphlet that tells people where they can go to detox, various help lines and where they can find medicated assisted treatment throughout the county.
She said the organization also advocates for more Narcan, a nasal spray that reverses the effects of an overdose, access points and they urge first responders to carry it as well as addicts themselves.
"We want active drug users to carry it with them and not to use alone because with the amount of fentanyl in heroin right now it is much stronger," she said. "Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, so people are at a high risk of overdose."
She added that they also advocate for syringe access points such as Tapestry in North Adams.
"It seems kind of counterintuitive like how you can give someone the needle ... but people are going to use the drugs anyways and we don't want them to get an infection or spread disease," Kimball said. "…We want to keep them safe until they are ready to get treatment."
She added that the syringe access points collect more needles than they give out which means there are less out in the public.
Tarsa expanded on the makeup of today's heroin and said typically a single pack of heroin is purchased for $4 to $5. The dealer then sells it for $15 to $20 so there is a big profit margin.
He echoed what Kimball said and noted that not only is today's heroin sometimes cut with fentanyl but an additional drug called Carfentanil, or carfentanyl.
"They are mixing it all together and the three of them all together one of the slang terms is 'Gray Death' and you can interpret what you want from that," Tarsa said. "You have three powerful drugs that you are using all at once."
He added that if a specific kind of heroin is known to cause overdoses it doesn't necessarily mean addicts will try to avoid it.
"The packets are labeled and have different names ... and if a person overdoses, others think that it may be a good one that is a good high," he said. "So they go looking for it so they can get that high and take that chance."
Tarsa said his officers carry Narcan and noted that although it is a great tool it is not a cure-all. He said he has come across addicts who have taken 50 to 75 hits of heroin a day and said he has been to overdose calls where it has taken up to six Narcan sprays to revive someone.
The police don't just carry Narcan for those suffering from an overdose, he said. There have been cases where police (not in Adams) have absorbed the drug through their skin and because it is so strong, they overdose immediately.
Tarsa said it is hard to calculate how many overdoses are in town because not everyone seeks medical help and the numbers always change but overdose and medical calls related to drug use have increased in Adams.
Kimball added that the number of overdose-related deaths in Berkshire County was 35, which is consistent with previous years. She added that the number may to be totally accurate because some smaller towns do not report overdose deaths because of privacy laws.
Tarsa said the department's partnership with Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative been a huge benefit to the town and efforts to snuff out the epidemic in the county.
Kimball said understanding has come a long way and people are realizing simply jailing addicts is not the answer.
"You can't really arrest the problem away and we have tried that approach and we know it does not work," she said. "You have people that are struggling ... and jail does not treat addiction and when they get out they just keep going."
She added that those who detox in jail and are released are 120 times more likely to die from an overdose than the general public.
Kimball noted that the beds at BHS in Pittsfield for long-term addiction treatment have improved things because there are other options than just the three to five-day detox that often results in relapse.
She said there is still a need for more beds and transitionary homes for those leaving the treatment center.
In closing, Kimball asked that the club members think differently about addiction and treat those who may be battling it with compassion. She said everyone deserves a chance to get better.
"We want to keep people alive long enough so they get to that point where it sticks and they seek out treatment," she said. "That might be AA, NA, medicated assisted treatment, yoga, church or bonding with animals. Everyone deserves the right to live and to get better."
Before closing, Tarsa said the Adams Police Department is preparing to roll out a pilot opioid buyback program its has developed with Williams College students. He said people can bring in their drugs in exchange for a voucher from a local business.
The forum was recorded for later broadcasting on Northern Berkshire Community Television. Check the listings for times.
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