The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission wants more municipal leaders and residents to be trained in using the overdose reversal drug Naloxone. They say there is a growing opioid crisis in Western Massachusetts.
The commission's Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative has expanded its educational services to central Berkshire County in an effort to inform residents on what is being done to stop opioid abuse.
According to the state’s most recent data from 2015, 32 people died from opioid overdoses in Berkshire County – 17 in Pittsfield.
Jennifer Kimball, the commission’s Public Health Planner and Collaborative Coordinator, says public safety officials across the county have stepped up their responsibility to use Naloxone, also called Narcan.
“They are all certified in using Narcan. So all of our first responders, police are trained. I think anyone coming out of the academy as well is at least trained in Narcan. So the ability is there,” Kimball said.
In the epicenter of the opioid crisis in Pittsfield, Gina Armstrong, the director of Pittsfield’s Health Department, says she has noticed a big difference since the city’s fire department was trained last September.
“So we have data of November through March and during that time they responded to 30 Naloxone interventions and 28 lives were saved and two fatalities,” Armstrong said.
The collaborative says the next step is to get the community more involved in preventing overdoses by training people to use Narcan. Narcan can be purchased from any pharmacy in Massachusetts without any insurance needed.
Amalio Jusino, the Assistant Chief of the North Adams Ambulance Services, says some emergency services and residents in Western Massachusetts still question the availability and use of Narcan.
“My message to you all is if you don't want us carrying that: Please take the AEDs out of all of the public buildings. Please take all of the cardiac medications, your family's diabetic medications, and your hypertension medication out of your homes because it is only just a tool and the only objective is to save lives. So let’s put the Narcan everywhere in the community we can,” Jusino said.
The collaborative also wants active drug users to be safer if they are going to use. They say there is a growing number of viruses associated with injected drug use. Berkshire County has seen an increase of the Hepatitis C virus, and HIV still remains an issue.
Pittsfield city leaders met with the state’s Department of Public Health Commissioner last week to discuss the city’s plan for a syringe access program to get rid of dirty needles. Armstrong says it will be similar to the program in North Adams.
Narcan and cLean needles can also be obtained through the Tapestry Health program that’s part of the collaborative in Pittsfield and North Adams.
“The way that the process is if you want Narcan, there should be no problem getting Narcan. There is no problem, I am telling you there is no problem getting Narcan,” Armstrong said.
The next Narcan training course for residents starts at 6 p.m. on April 13th at the Berkshire Athanaeum in Pittsfield.