Berkshire County Sheriff Talks How Data Can Help Fight Opioid Addiction behind Bars

The Berkshire Eagle

By Adam Shanks

If a new opioid bill is signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker, five Houses of Correction will pilot a medication-assisted treatment program for addicts.

The Berkshire County House of Correction, overseen by Sheriff Tom Bowler, isn’t one of them.

In an interview with The Eagle, Bowler welcomed the pilot program but expressed doubts about the efficacy of medication-assisted treatment in jails in place of an abstinence-based model.

“Here at the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, we believe in clean, sober living. That’s what we advocate for,” Bowler said. “I really believe that someone who’s addicted to an opiate, the one way they’re going to get clean is if they’re away from the [opiate] for a long period of time.”

Still, Bowler is curious to see how a three-year pilot program plays out and calls it a “step in the right direction.”

Echoing the position of the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association, Bowler prefers the pilot program instead of a previously proposed statewide mandate that all county jails to provide medication-assisted treatment like methadone or buprenorphine (commonly known by the brand name Suboxone).

“This pilot program is going to give us an opportunity to really look at some data so down the road. … We can try and create programs or a system that’s effective and much more efficient for the community as well as the individuals,” Bowler said.

The pilot program would be implemented in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, Middlesex and Norfolk counties. It would begin no later than Sept. 1, 2019, with annual reports from the Department of Public Health starting in 2020.

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