Franklin County sheriff, doctor present at national drug summit

  • Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan presents at the national Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, which was held virtually this month. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Dr. Ruth Potee, medical director at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction, was one of the presenters participating in the national Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, which was held virtually this month. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2021 4:53:35 PM

GREENFIELD — Sheriff Christopher Donelan, who co-chairs the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, and Dr. Ruth Potee were among the presenters participating in the national Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, which was held virtually this month.

The event, sponsored by Georgetown University in Nashville, Tenn., featured Donelan and Potee, who were invited to present and share their experiences and perspectives on addiction treatment in jails, especially their groundbreaking work at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction using medically assisted treatment with suboxone and methadone.

“Franklin County was the first house of correction in the state, and one of the first in the country, to introduce suboxone as a treatment for heroin and opioid addiction in 2016,” Donelan said.

In 2019, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office was then the first in the nation to become licensed by the federal government to distribute methadone. According to Donelan, no other county correctional facility has that designation.

The summit Donelan and Potee presented at included corrections, public health and public safety professionals from across the country.

“Franklin County is cutting edge with these treatments,” Donelan said. “Around the country, so many agencies refuse to adapt their programs to some of these tried and true treatments for opioid and heroin addiction. Our goal is to share our experience and show others they do not need to fear new approaches.”

Likewise, Potee, medical director at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction, spoke about the evolution of addiction science and the need for those in the corrections field to adapt to new methods of treatment.

“Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing,” she said. “It’s time for the field of corrections to recognize and embrace these treatments that we know work from decades of research. Franklin County has done it successfully and more need to follow.”

At the conclusion of their presentation, Donelan and Potee fielded questions from members of the audience, and what was evident to both of them, they said, was that there is a “real desire” around the country to improve addiction treatment in jails.

“We are really leading the nation with the treatment model at our local jail,” Donelan said. “It is an honor to have people looking to us as a model for the future and it really is a credit to the incredible officers and professional staff we have. A great treatment program doesn’t just happen; great employees make it happen.”

Donelan co-chairs the Opioid Task Force with Register of Probate John Merrigan and District Attorney David Sullivan. The task force was formed in September 2013 and collaborates with more than 300 public and private partners to ensure that the region works collectively to help reduce opioid and heroin addiction, prevent overdose deaths and improve the quality of life for everyone. For more information about the task force, visit opioidtaskforce.org.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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