Doctor says heroin problem has gotten much worse
GREENFIELD — When her father was a doctor years ago, Dr. Ruth Potee recalls how he never prescribed opiate medicine unless the patient was dying.
Now, since the 1990s, more doctors prescribe opiates to treat more diseases, Potee said in a video presentation Monday.
Potee, a family practitioner with the Valley Medical Group and a task force adviser, addressed the first forum held by the Opioid Education and Awareness Task Force of the Franklin, Hampshire and Quabbin Regions. The forum, “Heroin: A Community Response to a Community Crisis” was hosted by Greenfield Community College. Potee was not officially present at the meeting. Her remarks were pre-recorded last week at GCC.
“I’m an urban trained doctor from this rural area. The problem is the same. Except we have no resources,” Potee said. “It is an equivalent problem, but we have fewer resources, greater geography, greater poverty. It’s left us with a real crisis.”
Potee said she tells patients to lock up their pills and keep log books to make sure children aren’t accessing the drugs — advice she never had to give before.
Potee noted many problems in the healthcare system, from the lack of strong studies on opiate use to the lack of long-term beds for people seeking treatment. Most studies date to 2010 and sampled fewer than 500 people.
“I guarantee you things are much worse than they were in 2010, 2011 and 2012,” said Potee.
One of the major issues is the lack of treatment options in the area. The closest treatment center to Franklin County is in Northampton. Most often, people with opiate-abuse issues are sent to Franklin County House of Corrections to detox.
“This is a vast area without 90-day beds available. There are four counties and no detox beds,” Potee said. “The Franklin County House of Corrections is the only place to get sober.”
If someone says they need help, Potee said, there is typically only a three-hour window of opportunity to get them into treatment before they walk out. But medical professionals spend that time looking for available beds when there often aren’t any.