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Public forum set on mental health, drug abuse

GREENFIELD — Joining the community groups and agencies training their sights on the growing drug problem in Franklin County, the Community Health Care Initiative is sponsoring a forum at the end of the month on mental health and drug abuse.

“Mental Health and Drug Abuse in Franklin County: A Community Crisis” is scheduled for Thursday in the Greenfield Middle School auditorium, 195 Federal St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for access to service provider information tables, with a panel discussion beginning at 7 p.m. followed by a question and answer period.

The Community Health Care Initiative is a grass-roots advocacy group formed last year over concerns about local medical services moving to Springfield, and has recently become concerned with the availability of services for mental illness and drug addiction.

Patricia Williams of Greenfield, who chairs the group, said she has watched as reports of drug overdoses increase, including one in her neighborhood.

“I think it’s an issue that affects everyone,” Williams said. “It’s a very tragic situation and we have to pay attention to it otherwise it’s going to grow and grow.”

The group chose the middle school auditorium for its seating capacity, and hopes for high attendance.

Dr. Ruth Potee, a Valley Medical Group family physician, Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan and Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan will be among the presenters at the Jan. 30 forum. Potee includes addiction treatment in her family practice, Donelan and Merrigan interact with addiction in their respective jail and court roles, and all three are members of the ad-hoc Opiate Abuse Task Force of Franklin and Hampshire counties.

Williams said the dual topic of mental health and drug addiction was selected because both are significant needs.

Mental illness and drug addiction can be co-occurring problems, with people self-medicating or seeking a coping mechanism for trauma.

According to the latest estimates from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 6.8 million Americans lived with substance abuse disorder in 2011, compared to 12.1 million substance abusers without mental illness and 34.6 million with a mental illness but without addictions.

A retired union representative, Williams said she formed the Initiative after a forum held last spring by BFMC nurses on the topic of services leaving the community. The Initiative meets monthly in a Greenfield Community College classroom, with a mailing list of about 30 and attendance in the range of 10 to 15, Williams said, and membership includes a couple of nurses and a range of people who would consider themselves community activists.

The forum is free and open to all. For more information about the forum or the Initiative, Williams may be reached at 413-774-6406.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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