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Second Film Tackles North Berkshires' Opioid Crisis
By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:26AM / Tuesday, January 02, 2018
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North Adams Ambulance Assistant Chief Amalio Jusino recommends teaching children about the dangers of addiction and also recommends community members be trained on Narcan.

Berkshire Transition Network Recovery Coach Collin Woods speaks at the December forum of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — While many people are obsessed with the latest "Star Wars" movie, people in the Northern Berkshire County addiction and recovery community are watching a sequel of a completely different kind.

"Voices for Recovery: Building a Recovery Community" is the second locally produced documentary that addresses the opioid crisis in North County. Produced by local videographer Joe Aidonidis, it is the sequel to last year's "Faces: Five Voices from One Community," which focused on personal stories around addiction and recovery.

"Voices for Recovery" features different perspectives on how the local community has responded to the local epidemic of addiction. In introducing the film at its public debut at a Northern Berkshire Community Coalition forum in early December, Aidonidis had just one hope for viewers.

"Have an open mind," he said. "Be accepting to new information."

The film, which can be viewed here, tackles the community's efforts to combat the opioid crisis on several fronts. First, it interviews first responders like North Adams Ambulance Assistant Chief Amalio Jusino, who discusses the use of the drug naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, which can save lives by reversing the effects of an overdose. All first responders are carrying it, he said, but the drug itself can only go so far.

"Ultimately, Narcan is not the drug that puts you into rehab," he says in the film. "Narcan is the drug, the medication, that saves your life to give you another opportunity to potentially get into rehab."

Speaking at the December Coalition forum after the first public showing of the film, Jusino shared that he had just received a call from the Adams Police Department, who had used Narcan to save a life for the first time after having been reluctant to carry it. Still, Jusino said he wished the response to the crisis focused more on prevention - pleading with parents, teachers and society at large to educate children on the dangers before they get to the point of needing his life-saving services,

"Stop coddling these children," he said.

In fact, there are efforts to do just that, with local pediatricians being armed with information about drug abuse prevention to discuss with parents and children as young as 9 years old. Those prevention efforts are very important to Wendy Penner, the Coalition's director of prevention and wellness.

In the film, Penner says that research hasn't pinpointed why some people become addicted while others don't, but that a contributing factor locally is a that there is a "low perception of harm" among many youths.That's something prevention efforts can focus on, she says.

"Every year that they choose to delay is beneficial to their overall risk outlook," she says in the film.

Piggybacking on that message in the film is Tim Shiebler, program coordinator for the Coalition's UNITY youth programs. He speaks about the best way to try to educate young people about addiction.

"I think it's fair to say that preaching my beliefs to young people is fairly ineffective," he says, discussing how we need to arm young people with the tools to make good decisions themselves. "I think it's time to be very open and very honest about these types of things with young people."

But if all the prevention efforts fail, and a local person becomes addicted, then what? The film turns its attention to services available for people in every stage of recovery - including those not even ready for recovery. Sarah DeJesus, manager of the syringe access program at Tapestry Health in North Adams, shares her perspective in the film.

"There's a lot of programs for prevention. There's a lot of programs for treatment and recovery. But there are also a lot of people that fall in between those two places. Where do they go?" she asks in the film, focusing on those people who are still actively abusing drugs who are not ready for recovery but who still deserve to be treated and cared for with compassion. "For us, we fill that need."

That need can often be a difficult one to fill, as needle exchange programs can be controversial, with some communities rejecting them outright. But in the film, outgoing North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says the willingness of the city and the greater region to address the issue head-on is helping combat the program. People here seem to understand that addiction is a disease, and while the city itself can't treat people it can clear the way for the services that can treat people.

"We can make it certain that services that come in here find an open door and kind of an easy and welcoming way in," he says in the film.

Those services include Tapestry, of course, but also the actual recovery services many addicts need, such as the services offered by the the Brien Center. In the film the Brien Center's medical director, Jennifer Michaels, says that a variety of treatment is available to meet the needs of the individual hoping to recover from addiction.

"No one treatment works for all people. But all treatments work for some people, and we need to respect that and offer it and also not get wedded to one modality," she says in the film. "We need to think of recovery as a process, meaning it's a lifetime of recovery."

At the Coalition forum, Michaels and colleague Megan Wroldson, the division director of adult and family services, discussed what kind of treatments are available locally. While there currently is no residential sober-living facility in North County, they are both hopeful that funds can be allocated to the creation of such a facility.

"It is our goal," Wroldson said. "It's definitely dependent on Department of Health funding."

There are many options that are not residential, Michaels said, including day treatment for those not needing to be hospitalized for clinical stabilization as well as behavioral therapy. Still, she said, she is always on the lookout for more funding for more residential services, because it's "not acceptable" to have wait lists for the residential spots that are available in Pittsfield.

"That makes it very clear we need more beds in Berkshire County," she said.

That investment will pay off, she emphasized, because ultimately addiction can be treated.

"This is a very treatable disease, and people can recover," she said. "We need to shine light on this all the time."

Perhaps nowhere in the film is that need for a lifetime change more evident than when Jill Daughtery speaks. Daughtery is a recovering addict herself who volunteers with the Josh Bressette Commit To Save A Life organization, created in memory of Joshua Bressette, a 25-year-old who lost his life due to his addiction to heroin. The organization provides assistance to individuals seeking recovery from heroin/opioid use disorder through financial, inspirational and peer support.

In the film, Daughtery talks about how recovery is a process that requires a willingness to commit to making the necessary life changes.

"If you're serious about recovery, you have to be serious about cutting ties with all of that," she said. "You have to stop going to the places that you went to. You have to stop handing out with the people that you use to hang out with. You have to stop doing the things that you used to do.

"Because if nothing changes, nothing changes," she says. "If you're serious about recovery, you have to change everything."

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