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100K Gift Helps Brien Center Expand Youth Substance Abuse Program
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
03:23AM / Monday, February 29, 2016
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The Brien Center is expanding its programs for youth with a $100,000 gift.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — B. John and Rosaleen Miller lost their son to a drug overdose.
 
Their response 20 year ago is helping prevent that tragedy occurring to other families. Jim Mucia of the Brien Center says, "if we can get one kid off of heroin it is worth it."
 
Mucia heads the Patrick Miller Youth Substance Abuse Program at the Brien Center. The program brings counselors into schools all over Berkshire County, provides intervention programs and holds forums and presentations, all with a focus of keeping students away from drugs and alcohol.
 
"The best way to reduce the opioid problem, which is obviously become huge, is to not start. Once an addict starts, it is very hard to stop," Mucia said.
 
The Millers started the program some 20 years ago in honor of their son and it's comes a long way since then. It expects to reach even more middle and high school students with the help of a $100,000 gift received in December from the Josephine and Louise Crane Foundation.
 
"It is going to add staff which will allow us to be in more schools and even more importantly it will allow us to be in the schools we are currently in for more time," Brien Center CEO Christine Macbeth said on Friday. 
 
Mucia says the expansion will particularly happen in North County, where the program has been limited in the past. Drury and Hoosac Valley will be added to the roster of high schools the staff administers programs in.
 
"Especially with adolescents, they don't really want to get help. They don't easily come to one of our formal clinics — not for drug use. Frankly, a lot of them are using marijuana and alcohol, some opioids, and they don't really want to stop," Mucia said.
 
"Placing a counselor and educator in the school, the kids get to know them, feel comfortable with them, they understand it is safe and confidential. The kids will approach them on their own and it is a very effective way to engage."
 
Mucia says the biggest problem in area schools is the use of marijuana and alcohol while the 19- to 22-year-old range is seeing a growth in opioid and heroin usage. But, he's been seeing heroin use seep into the younger ages.
 
"Marijuana is huge. Marijuana used to the extent some of these kids are using is very harmful," Mucia said.
 
There are students who are "stoned all day" and that impacts their mental development. Further, he says there are some students who will drink a fifth of alcohol in one sitting.
 
"We've got young teenagers who will consume significant amounts of alcohol in one sitting," Mucia said. 
 
And the numbers are growing.
 
The Brien Center offers full rehabilitation programs but Mucia and Macbeth don't want to see youth there. The center receives state contracts and third-party insurance payments for those programs but the prevention program has been left on its own.
 
"It is the only program at the Brien Center that is not supported by our usual funding sources," Macbeth said of the Patrick Miller Youth Substance Abuse Program. 
 
The substance abuse program focuses on preventing those who haven't tried drugs or alcohol from doing it and those who have used but haven't gotten into a full-blown addiction problem.
 
It is funded by the Berkshire United Way, Northern Berkshire United Way, Williamstown Community Chest, the city of Pittsfield, and now the Josephine and Louise Crane Foundation. 
 
The program will have a regular presence in middle and high schools in Berkshire County — except Lenox and some of the schools farther south that are serviced occasionally.
 
"The earlier that you can intervene with kids and engage them, ideally it will prevent them from using at all or the age they start is delayed at the very least," Macbeth said.
 
Macbeth says the opioid scourge has been grabbing attention statewide and nationally so she is hopeful there will be more support for prevention and intervention programs. However, she says there is still a stigma of addiction and mental health that keeps people from talking honestly and dealing with the issue.
 
"A lot of people don't believe our reality. We are all dealing with addiction whether it be in our own families, in the workplace, the folks we hang out with, or whatever. Everybody can, if they wanted to, share a story and talk about. But, because there is so much stigma attached, people don't easily talk about it," Macbeth said.
 
Some 20 years ago, the Millers weren't afraid to talk about the topic and helped create this program so that others won't have to go through what they went through.
 
The Brien Center administers education, prevention programs, interventions, screenings, and outpatient services — all programs certified by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — in hopes to prevent even more of the area youth from falling into drug and alcohol addiction problems. 
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