Methadone treatment facility for North Quabbin region expected to open in fall

  • Dr. Ruth Potee, a leading voice among groups working to stem the tide of opioid and heroin overdoses, plans to run a new methadone treatment facility in the Aubuchon Plaza on the Athol-Orange line that could open as early as September. File Photo

For the Recorder
Published: 6/23/2021 7:03:14 PM

Dr. Ruth Potee, a leading voice among groups working to stem the tide of opioid and heroin overdoses, plans to run a new methadone treatment facility in the Aubuchon Plaza on the Athol-Orange line that could open as early as September.

Speaking with the Athol Selectboard last week to introduce herself, Potee explained she was a family physician in Boston for 10 years, then in Greenfield for another 10. Two years ago, she was offered a full-time job with Behavioral Health Network, the largest mental health organization in Western Massachusetts.

“I said I won’t take that job unless I know that much-needed service is provided to the North Quabbin region, in terms of addiction treatment,” Potee said. “I grew up here. I’ve taken care of people who struggle with substance abuse over a 22-year career. And North Quabbin has been an area, like every other part of Massachusetts and New England, hard-hit by the opioid epidemic. The problem here, as many of you know, is that it tends to be a medically underserved region. It’s what we know as a ‘treatment desert.’”

Potee said the clinic will be located in the Aubuchon Plaza on the Athol-Orange line. The office is co-located with the Community Health Center of Franklin County, which opened there in April. The methadone treatment facility, she continued, will likely open its doors near the end of summer.

While admitting she was unaware of exactly how many people in the North Quabbin region are currently getting methadone treatment, she noted that anyone receiving a daily dose must “drive 45 to 50 minutes to get a life-saving drug every single morning.”

“You either head to Leominster-Fitchburg or you go to Greenfield,” Potee explained. “Disruption in that treatment causes people to return to use with what really is a deadly disease.”

She noted that deaths from opioids have increased by some 30 percent nationwide during the past year.

“We know that the rates of overdose in Athol and Orange have increased even more than that,” she continued. “This area, per capita, has one of the highest overdose rates. And it just bothers me so much that people who are already under-resourced, who don’t have great access to awesome vehicles and gas money all the time, have to drive so far for that medication.”

“I’ve had the honor of working with Dr. Potee for quite a few years,” said Athol Selectboard Chair Rebecca Bialecki, who works at Behavioral Health Network in Greenfield. “You can’t get a more statewide or nationally recognized person to speak to this issue than Ruth.

“There’s always been a real issue that those who desperately need medically assisted treatment just can’t get to it,” Bialecki continued. “It’s a huge commitment for people to make to be successful in that form of treatment, and it’s made that much more difficult for those who have to drive. Both to our east and west, (treatment clinics) have been closed to new patients for quite some time because the numbers are just overwhelming.”

Selectboard member Mitch Grosky asked Potee for more information regarding the services that will be provided by the new clinic.

“It’s a very single-purpose office,” she replied. “So, truly, we’re providing methadone as a treatment for opioid abuse disorder. We’re not providing any other services because the Community Health Center will be providing those.

“There’s actually something quite historic and exciting about this project,” Potee said. “We think we cannot find another co-located methadone clinic with a community health center in the entire country. This is actually a model delivery of service where we think we can shift the model a little bit so that it’s less rigid.”

While methadone is heavily regulated, she noted, Potee said she has been working with the state “to reduce barriers to access.” She described the rules governing methadone as “antiquated,” having been written in 1972.

“They make no sense in today’s world, yet there they are,” she said. “So, our job is to both follow the rules but, more importantly from my perspective, to meet the needs of patients. So, people come, they drink their medicine and they’re gone.”

Potee said she is more than willing to meet with the Selectboard again, should additional questions arise regarding the treatment facility.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.




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