Magazine focuses on Greenfield as opioid treatment success story

  • Mattea Kramer —Submitted photo

  • Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield. FILE PHOTO

  • Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan in his office at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction. Recorder/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/1/2018 7:14:32 PM

GREENFIELD — This region’s strides in battling opioid addiction have received notice in an online magazine article “because America needs a solution to the crisis, and Greenfield, Mass., may have one,” the writer states.

The article in the “Fast Forward” section of the online magazine Ozy asks in its headline, “Can this small town lead America in fighting the opioid crisis?”

Author Mattea Kramer, who grew up in Greenfield, contends that the Franklin County House of Correction “is now at the vanguard of U.S. correctional facilities, offering something that’s common in European jails but rare in the U.S.: inmates receiving medication-assisted treatment” to curb opioid cravings and block the effects of the narcotics.

Unlike punitive jail programs, argues Kramer, there’s a “multipronged, holistic approach” taken here in fighting opioid addiction that lives up to the name “correction” by offering patients a reason to get better.

“The work that’s happening in Greenfield is a microcosm of what needs to happen all across the country,” the article quotes Michael Botticelli, executive director of Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction and former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Kramer credits her parents, the late Leonard Kramer and Dr. Nancee Bershof, as early practitioners of meditation who gave her an understanding of its importance in comprehensive treatment in the jail.

“There’s so much inventive, groundbreaking work here, from family drug court to the jail, that’s certainly ahead of the curve in terms of coming up with a much more creative response” than in other parts of the country,” she told the Recorder.

Using dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, clinicians encourage inmates to focus on what truly matters to them, which become, simply put, a reason to get better, but also to identify what triggers their craving for drugs: their memories, sadness and stresses. That, according to Levin Schwartz, the jail’s director of clinical and re-entry services, creates a “split-second … window” for the former users to decide whether to use or move toward what really matters for them.

“What makes this program unique is the integration and reinforcement of skills across the entire continuum,” he said. And rather than a punitive model, which focuses on negative reinforcements that members of this population are resistant to, the evidence-based DBT model reinforces the direction they’ve identified as wanting to move their life toward.

The same strategies are offered in mental health centers, said Schwartz, and reinforce what was learned during incarceration as part of an integrated model, post-release.

In some ways, he said, the public-health approach — which requires adequate case management for backup — can work better during incarceration because it’s a “captive audience,” serving sentences of months at a time.

Dr. Ruth Potee, medical director at the jail as well as at the 64-bed opioid treatment center on Federal Street, explains in the article, “Everybody needs a sense of purpose. It could be taking care of your kids, or having a job, or going back to school, or walking your neighbor’s dog.”

Kramer’s article also points to the Franklin County jail’s degree-earning programs through Greenfield Community College, especially its Farm and Food Systems program, with a pipeline to post-release jobs in the food industry.

“I think there’s something special about this area,” said Kramer, pointing to the same collaborative nature of institutions that’s often been cited in how organizations work together for the common good in Franklin County. “It’s a really special place where the president of the community college calls the sheriff and says, ‘Let’s collaborate and bring college-accredited courses to your institution.’”

In addition to the interaction between GCC President Robert Pura and Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan, she said, there was the collaboration of county Register of Probate John Merrigan, Donelan, Potee, the district attorney and others to form the Franklin County Opioid Task Force five years ago and the creation of a drug court, which Schwartz said has helped divert cases with less risk of recidivism.

“Sheriff Donelan is a hero,” Kramer added. “Totally converting the notion of what ‘sheriff’ means to most people as ‘tough on crime.’ That’s changing lives.”

Finally, said Kramer, who’s been a senior adviser at the National Priorities Project and has written for The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Huffington Post and other publications, “The stuff they’re doing at the jail is incredible,” from meditation classes and yoga to organic gardening and guitar lessons — all of which reduce the stress that exacerbates problems.

She acknowledges there is plenty of work that remains to be done in providing released inmates with drug-free housing and job opportunities. Some employers in the region’s farming and food processing, landscaping and car detailing sectors have started to help with that.

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