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PCTV Channels Moving, Pittsfield Joins Lawsuit Over Opioids
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
01:08AM / Thursday, February 15, 2018
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Police Chief Michael Wynn congratulates James Parise for his appointment as police sergeant.

PCTV is unhappy that its low-number channels are being moved by Spectrum because of its new digital signaling. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — PCTV is not happy with Spectrum moving the local access channels.

The cable company is moving Pittsfield Community Television's three channels — Access Pittsfield, CityLink, and Pittsfield ETV — from Channels 16,17, and 18 to 1301,1302, and 1303 on March 6. Additionally, the company is encrypting the digital signal, so in order to get the stations, the customer needs to rent a cable box.

"By encrypting their channels they will force all cable subscribers to rent one cable box for each of the televisions in their home. That means all televisions, even newer ones, will need a cable box to receive any cable channels from Spectrum. This will place an undue and unwelcome burden on the most vulnerable people in our community — the elderly, folks on fixed incomes — as many of them can't afford the extra $6 to $8 per television to continue to watch even the basic tier of channels," Executive Director Shawn Serre said.

He said the additional cost is "unacceptable." But, also what is unacceptable for Serre is moving the public channels away from the lower tier. That'll make it more difficult for residents to find them. Serre said the current channels will go black on March 6.

"Many viewers will think that they've lost these channels or they are no longer operating. Viewers who normally channel surf in the lower tier of channels are used to easily finding their City Council meetings, school committee meetings, high school sports, and all of the other good, local programming they can find on PCTV," Serre said.

Serre called on the City Council to help get the word out and to fight the cable company's decision. He asked the City Council for support Tuesday night.

"This is the cable company's strategy to marginalize local programming. Let me assure you that we at PCTV are just as frustrated with this planned change as you and your constituents must be," Serre said.

In other business, the city is joining a nationwide lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for fueling the opioid epidemic. The firm Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor is asking cities and towns to join the litigation suing the major companies for the costs cities and towns bear to combat the opioid crisis.

"We would have the potential to recover funds that would help us pay for the impacts the opioid crisis has had on our community," Mayor Linda Tyer said. "We pay nothing ... if they were to succeed, if they were able to recover funds on our behalf, they'd get 25 percent,"

City Solicitor Richard Dohoney said the suit is a multi-district litigation, in which numerous suits are being grouped together by regions. He compared it to former suits against big tobacco companies that resulted in anti-smoking advertising and programs the companies are still required to pay for. The state of Massachusetts, at the time, also got monetary compensation. There are numerous ways any type of settlement or judgment could play out, he said.

"Clearly it has been a long time coming for our communities, our country, to go after these pharmaceutical companies for what they've done to our communities," Council Vice President John Krol said. "It is a huge economic impact for Pittsfield and many other communities. This is a step in the right direction, we should aggressively go after these companies."

One particular cost noted is the cost of first responders and police. The Fire Department has been carrying the overdose reversal drug Narcan for about a year and a half and firefighters have responded to numerous overdoses.

Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said Narcan was used 36 times during the first three months it was available. In 2017, the department used it 76 times.

"We've seen a decrease somewhat in the past year. But where it is going to go is anyone's guess," Czerwinski said.

Narcan being widely distributed has helped stem the tide of overdose deaths, according to Health Director Gina Armstrong, but there is still a need for more resources. Pittsfield gets its Narcan through a state grant but there are no guarantees that will continue in the future.

"We, in Pittsfield, have a huge problem," said Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon, a nurse who recalled her days in school when the pharmaceutical companies pushed the idea that opioids were non-addictive.

Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said pharmaceutical companies had massive marketing budgets during the 1970s and 1980s to urge doctors to prescribe the painkillers. It is now that the detriments of that are being seen and cities and towns are picking up much of the tab for the damage it has caused.

Police Chief Michael Wynn said he couldn't even put a number on how much it has impacted public safety. He said there have been increased calls for service, overdoses, criminal charges for manslaughter for dealers, and property crimes.

"It is incredibly time consuming. I can't even begin to put a figure on the impact it has had on the drug unit," Wynn said.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi praised the lawsuit and hopes to see some type of return.

"The damage that opioids have done to the community and for the added responsibility it has put on our police department ... I'm really glad this is something that will be an action and hopefully the pharmaceutical companies will get punished," Morandi said.

Also this week, Tyer appointed James Parise to the position of police sergeant.


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