Dr Ruth Potee, a leading voice among groups working to stem the tide of opioid and heroin overdoses, plans to run a new methadone treatment center in Place Aubuchon on the Athol-Orange line which could open in September.
Speaking to the Athol Selectboard last week to introduce herself, Potee explained that she was a family doctor in Boston for 10 years and then in Greenfield for 10 more. Two years ago, he was offered a full-time job with Behavioral Health Network, the largest mental health organization in western Massachusetts.
“I said I wouldn’t take this job unless I knew that there was a much needed service being provided to the North Quabbin area, in terms of drug treatment,” Potee said. “I grew up here. I have cared for people struggling with drug addiction over a 22 year career. And North Quabbin has been an area, like all other parts of Massachusetts and New England, hit hard by the opioid epidemic. The problem here, as many of you know, is that this is usually a medically underserved area. This is what we call a “processing desert”.
Potee said the clinic will be located on Place Aubuchon on the Athol-Orange line. The office is co-located with the Franklin County Community Health Center, which opened there in April. The methadone treatment facility, she continued, will likely open in late summer.
While admitting that she wasn’t sure exactly how many people in the North Quabbin area are currently receiving methadone treatment, she noted that anyone receiving a daily dose has to “drive 45 to 50 minutes to get life-saving medication. each morning “.
“You are going either to Leominster-Fitchburg or to Greenfield,” Potee explained. “The disruption of this treatment causes people to start using what is truly a fatal disease. ”
She noted that opioid deaths have increased by about 30% nationwide over the past year.
“We know that the overdose rates at Athol and Orange have increased even more than that,” she continued. “This region, per capita, has one of the highest overdose rates. And it bothers me so much that people who are already under-resourced, who don’t always have access to great vehicles and money for gasoline, have to drive this far for this drug.
“I have had the honor of working with Dr Potee for several years,” said Athol Selectboard president Rebecca Bialecki, who works at the Behavioral Health Network in Greenfield. “You can’t get someone more recognized statewide or nationally to talk about this issue than Ruth.
“There has always been a real problem that those who are in desperate need of medically assisted treatment simply cannot access it,” Bialecki continued. “It’s a huge commitment that people have to make to be successful in this form of treatment, and it makes it even more difficult for those who have to drive. Both east and west (the treatment clinics) have been closed to new patients for some time because the numbers are just overwhelming.
Mitch Grosky, a member of the selection committee, asked Potee for more information on the services that will be provided by the new clinic.
“It’s a one-purpose office,” she replied. “So really we are providing methadone as a treatment for opioid abuse disorder. We do not offer any other service because the Community Health Center will provide it.
“There is actually something quite historic and exciting about this project,” Potee said. “We think we can’t find another methadone clinic co-located with a community health center across the country. It’s actually a service delivery model where we think we can tweak the model a bit to make it less rigid.
While methadone is heavily regulated, she noted, Potee said she was working with the state “to reduce barriers to access.” She described the rules governing methadone as “outdated”, having been written in 1972.
“They don’t make sense in today’s world, and yet they are there,” she said. “So our job is both to follow the rules but, more importantly from my perspective, to meet the needs of the patients. So people come, they drink their medicine and they are gone.
Potee said she was more than willing to meet with the selection committee again if there were any further questions regarding the treatment facility.
Greg Vine can be contacted at [email protected]