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Addiction in Franklin County

Opioid task force calls on state for support

  • Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett
  • Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan in his office.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan, who is spearheading the regional anti-opiate abuse task force, along with the local district attorney and sheriff.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Dr. Ruth Potee at Valley Medical Center.  Recorder/Paul Franz

GREENFIELD — Members of the Franklin County Opioid Task Force told the state’s public health commissioner Friday that more support would allow the county’s work in fighting opioid abuse to expand and serve as a statewide model.

Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett — who met with officials in Greenfield and Springfield to hear what they’re doing to fight the addiction crisis — said that she still plans to recommend adding a detox center to the county. She’ll be giving recommendations to Gov. Deval Patrick late next week.

At a roundtable discussion of more than 40 people — including local and state politicians, health care officials and public safety officers — task force members updated Bartlett on their work in the county and how it could be expanded with state support.

“View us as a pilot opportunity,” said Chuck Gijanto, president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “I’ve never seen a community rally around an issue like this community has.”

“(Franklin County is) unique in that we’re taking a leadership role and charting new paths,” said state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington. “I hope that can get more attention of the Legislature and administration. ... We’re a great laboratory for efficient treatment.”

Task force members told Bartlett that without a detox center in Franklin County, people who need help aren’t finding it in time. There’s often a small amount of time when people are willing to seek treatment, they said, and that window sometimes closes before spaces become available at treatment centers in other parts of the state.

A list of recommendations released last week by a state panel charged with finding solutions to the opioid abuse epidemic included a “detoxification program in Franklin County” with an estimated price tag of $550,000. During a visit to Greenfield earlier this month, Gov. Patrick committed to bringing a detox facility to the county by the end of 2015.

Health officials told Bartlett that the treatment continues after detox, and that any new center needed to be accompanied with increased post-detox services.

Physician Ruth Potee spoke about the task force’s effort to focus on the use of opioid prescription drugs with the goal of making Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire counties the “tightest, smartest, best prescribing counties in the state.”

Between 600 and 700 physicians have been trained about pain management and safe prescribing practices, said Potee, and the task force is also encouraging pharmacists to speak up about inconsistent or suspicious prescriptions.

Heroin addiction also led to significantly more crime, said Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh. While there were about 310 arrests during the five months of 2013, there have been just over 650 so far this year. Haigh estimated that almost all recent burglaries and robberies have been connected to substance abuse.

Both Sheriff Christopher Donelan and Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan were pleased and optimistic after Friday’s discussion with Bartlett.

“It’s an opportunity for us to present to the commissioner the work we’ve been doing in the county,” said Donelan. “To have an impact on the statewide strategy that might come out of all of this, it’s very gratifying.”

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