Editorial: Monday mix on drug implants; outdoor classes; Awesome grants

  • Dr. Kate Atkinson injects Jamey Summers with a local anesthetic to numb his arm before inserting four buprenorphine implants at her office in Amherst on Sept. 20. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Another tool to battle opioid dependence is available after at least one local doctor was trained to perform implant surgery.

Kate Atkinson, who has a family practice in Amherst, put her skill to work recently on Jamey Summers of Northampton. She implanted in the crook of his left elbow four small rods containing buprenorphine that is released in a slow, steady dose over a six-month period. The rods then can be replaced.

“I wanted to learn how to do this, so I went to Atlanta and learned all about it,” Atkinson says. “We just didn’t have anybody it seemed appropriate for at the time. All of a sudden, Jamey decided he really wanted it.”

Summers, 41, of Northampton, is a building contractor who became dependent on opioids in 2012 after he was prescribed Percocet for kidney stone pain and then for a back injury. “What happens is you find out once you stop, you still need them, man,” he says. “You get sick, and you get low, and you get desperate.”

He has since tried many medications to rid him of his addiction, with Suboxone working best for him. However, the state’s new prescription monitoring program has made it more difficult to get Suboxone at a pharmacy. “I’m a stable patient that has a great background and I go into the pharmacy and it’s always a problem getting this (prescription) filled,” Summers says.

The implant, which was approved in 2016 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, administers low-to-moderate doses of buprenorphine, which also is in oral medications, including Suboxone.

Not only do the implanted rods save Summers from going to the pharmacy, they also are more convenient than remembering to take pills. “It’s hands off. You’re getting your dose every day, you never forget to take it,” he says. “Kids can’t get into it; people can’t steal it; you can’t lose it. I think it’s the future of pain and addiction.”

In short, says Summers, the implants are “the holy grail.”

As for Atkinson, she says, “I tend to be cutting edge. I like trying new things. This felt like it would fit in as a good tool.”

We think so too, and encourage other doctors to learn the technique and increase the treatment options for opioid addiction.

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We’re glad to see more local students taking advantage of the region’s terrific environment by learning outdoors.

Outdoor classrooms are becoming more common across the country, including in New England. Among the Hampshire County schools with regular outdoor classes are Hatfield Elementary, R.K. Finn Ryan Road in Florence and R.H. Conwell Elementary in Worthington.

Christa Andersen, a kindergarten teacher in Hatfield, encourages her students to have fun with activities such as building a stick bridge over a creek, while learning lessons like what makes leaves turn different colors in the fall.

The outdoor setting works well with children who have different learning styles. “It’s an opportunity to see kids who might struggle in some areas of an academic kindergarten really become leaders and ignite the learning and passion of other kids outside,” Andersen says. “It’s an opportunity for kids to really shine in ways that really just can’t happen inside.”

We applaud those schools for their outside-the-walls thinking about education.

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An already vibrant downtown Northampton is getting even more of a shine with the help of the city’s branch of the Awesome Foundation, an international organization that seeks to improve the quality of life wherever it operates.

The Northampton branch started in January is overseen by 10 trustees — businesses and nonprofit groups — that each donate $100 a month. The trustees award $1,000 grants to individuals, businesses or nonprofits for projects that will bring an “artsy, edgy, interesting, different vibe” to downtown.

Groups that have received the grants so far are the Center for New Americans for a mural in its Gothic Street building; New Century Theatre for staged readings of plays by local writers; Juggling Bards to create a juggling group; Pencil Bandits for overseeing youth events such as a live songwriting contest; and Pioneer Valley Food Tours for guided local food tours.

Amy Cahillane, executive director of the Downtown Northampton Association, one of the trustees, says, “We want to bring some new voices to downtown.”

And we think that’s just awesome.