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Addiction in Franklin County

Drug treatment for Franklin, N. Quabbin in state budget

Both Franklin County and the North Quabbin area will have money for new detox facilities to combat drug addiction, once the latest state budget is signed into law.

In the North Quabbin region, $1 million in the public health service budget is designated for a new mental health, drug and rehabilitation facility, to be run by Heywood Healthcare, according to state Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange. If all goes as hoped, a new treatment facility could be starting up by December, with about 80 beds and the staffing of 200 people.

“This is great news for us,” said Andrews. “It’s huge.”

As for Franklin County, a new $10 million statewide Substance Abuse Services Trust Fund includes $550,000 to set up and run a new detox facility.

“It is my hope that this detox facility in Franklin County will help alleviate the suffering too many of our families have endured and serve as an effective tool in our overall struggle against substance abuse,” said Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “I commend Register of Probate John Merrigan, Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan, Northwest District Attorney David Sullivan, the Opioid Task Force ... and the Franklin County legislative delegations’ office, for their spirit of partnership in the face of this crisis.”

Rosenberg also praised Gov. Deval Patrick, who supported the idea, “for again remembering western Mass., especially in a time of need.”

State Sen. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, vice-chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said the state has had to respond to “an alarming increase of individuals in need of treatment for substance abuse and addiction.” He said the Fiscal Year 2015 budget includes $18 million in new spending for addiction services. Besides spending for treatment facilities, the Substance Abuse Services Trust Fund will pay for: mental health and substance abuse counselors within schools; purchase of nasal Narcan overdose treatment and training for its use; a prescription monitoring program to prevent possible over-prescribing of painkillers; funding for specialty courts and the placement of addiction specialists in some court systems.

According to a news release from Andrews, a site in Petersham is being considered for the new treatment center in the North Quabbin. “We are under contract to acquire a 21-acre parcel of land known as the Sisters of Assumption property,” said Heywood Healthcare spokeswoman Dawn Casavant. “We are assessing the viability of utilizing this property for behavioral health services. We will be moving through a very deliberate regulatory process over the next several months, with the hope that this funding and this property will help provide the communities we serve with access to critical behavioral health and addiction services.”

Now that the money is available for a new treatment facility in Franklin County, the next step will be for the state Department of Public Health to put out a request for proposals, to find a vendor to assist with a detox facility, said Merrigan.

“The big critical thing for us is finding available beds for the opiate-addicted population, and then finding resources after (detox) — because that’s not the end of it,” Merrigan said. “Ten years ago, we had the Beacon programs (at Franklin Medical Center), which were cut during the Romney Administration. This is rebuilding from scratch.”

Merrigan said the problems caused by opiate addiction in Franklin County “are flooding the courts, flooding emergency rooms, and breaking up families.”

“We know we’re going to benefit from the proximity of that (North Quabbin) facility,” Merrigan added. He said the current process of trying to find detox facility space available in Worcester, Springfield and Boston for people in Franklin County, is very difficult. “By the time they have a bed, you lose them,” he explained. “We hope to have immediate resources to be successful and get them treated.

“This is a first step, and we’re fortunate that the local legislators are really watching our back,” said Merrigan.

Steven Bradley, the new president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center, which is involved with the Franklin County Opioid Task Force, said it’s great to have legislative support for a new treatment facility. “This will be the beginning of our (the task force’s) effort to build a comprehensive prevention and treatment program,” said Bradley. “This is really the first installment of what is going to be needed to build both treatment and capacity. We don’t have anywhere near enough treatment options or capacity for treatment,” Bradley said. “We’re going to continue to advocate for more resources for the entire county. It’s a good thing that’s happened. We need to see other good things happen,” said Bradley. “The unmet need far outstrips $550,000.”

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