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Stigma still blocks aid to drug addicts

KAREN D. BROWN highlights the surge of heroin use in rural Massachusetts and the shortage of available treatment (“A growing scourge,” g section, July 1). Opiate use is not strictly an urban problem.

We have a 44-year record of treating opiate addicts in Massachusetts. Several years ago, at the encouragement of the state, we began to explore the feasibility of establishing a treatment facility in Berkshire County. The fatal and near-fatal overdose rate in the region eclipsed most comparable population areas in the state.

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After overcoming tremendous community resistance, Spectrum opened an outpatient medication-assisted treatment program in October 2012. The demand has been overwhelming. Currently more than 300 individuals are receiving treatment who previously participated in daily illicit opiate use.

The resistance we received in establishing this facility brings to light that addiction is still viewed as a moral character flaw, rather than a chronic disease. Until addiction is viewed by the public the same as other chronic diseases, like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, professional addiction treatment organizations will be thwarted in their attempts to establish accessible treatment facilities, and addicted individuals will be forced to continue their addiction, thus perpetuating the stereotype.

This is the 21st century. Addiction should not be viewed with 19th-century stereotypes.

Charles J. Faris

President and CEO,
Spectrum Health Systems


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