Treat medically, not criminally, people with a substance use disorder.

The Berkshire Eagle  reports the county's top law enforcement official and a leading local mental health expert delivered that message Sunday morning, during a two-hour forum at Lenox Town Hall.

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington and Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director at the Pittsfield-based Brien Center, the county's largest mental health care provider, spoke to and answered questions about the legal and health ramifications of the opioid crisis in Berkshire County.

A proponent for treatment over jail time, Harrington believes many of the local court cases involving defendants accused of unarmed robbery or breaking into people's homes looking for drug money could have been avoided had their addiction been dealt with sooner.

With the annual cost of incarceration per person in Massachusetts running about $55,000 compared to $10,000 for treating someone with a substance use problem, the latter is the obvious choice to Michaels.

 

Michaels said addiction is a brain disease best treated with methadone or other medication over a long period of time.

On the prevention side, Michaels says education in the schools, at home and among medical professionals is crucial in recognizing someone is misusing drugs and how best to intervene.

Keeping a campaign promise, Harrington says she's working toward changing a criminal justice system that isn't designed to help provide medical treatment to those with a substance use disorder.

 

Harrington says jail is no place for treating nonviolent people with a substance use problem.

In the long run, the district attorney believes treating individuals misusing drugs can keep help them employed, improve family relationships, and make them a vital part of the community.