By Beth Treffeisen
Frustrated residents in the South End streamed into the McKinley South End Academy last Wednesday, Nov. 15, to share their continued concerns and outrage over the ongoing opioid addiction-related problems in the neighborhood.
Many residents feel overwhelmed by the side effects of living close to a cluster of addiction treatment facilities that have created quality-of-life problems such as encountering people using illegal drugs, excessive trash, theft, and unsafely discarded needles.
In an effort to start communicating solutions and information to residents, the South End Forum Working Group on Addiction, Recovery, and Homelessness met with representatives from the city, state, and local treatment centers to provide updated information on mitigation efforts and current ideas on how to help solve this complex problem.
“Many of us in the neighborhood have had to go through a pretty serious education process to begin to understand what many of the providers and professionals deal with on this issue on a every day basis,” said Stephen Fox the moderator of the forum. “One of the things we learned as part of that process is there is a very human face to addiction, recovery and homelessness.”
“Also, part of what we learned is that there is no uni-dimensional or single solution that we can count on to manage the crisis that we face.”
The area of Massachusetts Ave. and Melnea Cass Blvd. is home to two private Methadone Clinics, the City’s Men’s Shelter and the City’s Women’s Shelter, the city’s only needle exchange program, the Boston Public Health Commission’s programs, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Programs, Boston Medical Center, the new Engagement Center, and other providers located nearby.
Fox stated there is no doubt that the impact of aggregate “clustering” should not be underestimated, especially since this area is also arguably the “ground zero” for Boston’s street drug trade.
One major solution that the working group is proposing is to create a joint city-state partnership, along with outreach to the private sector, to design and build a state-of-the-art Boston Recovery Campus, at the current state-owned Shattuck Hospital Campus in Jamaica Plain.
The hope is that the recovery campus will help take the burden off of the South End facilities and help piece together the broken recovery treatment services that leave many seeking help left on the street.
The current trend for treating addiction has been “Treatment on Demand” that gives people who want to recover the opportunity to seek out treatment options and be able to enter.
According to 2017 numbers, statewide, there are about 3,500 to 3,600 detox beds available on any given day with about 3,300 hundred people in detox from anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks.
After they are discharged from detox patients go into clinical support services and transitional support services for about 10 to 15 days. On a statewide basis there are only 931 beds available, leaving a one in four chance of entering a recovery program.
Then, even if a patient gets into a recovery program, the following step which provides transitional support housing or support services such as sober houses and normalization to recovery becomes even tougher to get into with only 600 plus beds available.
“There was recognition of this by Governor [Charlie Baker] and from the Secretary of Health and Human Services [Marylou Sudders] in a press conference earlier today that this continuity is broken and this is where we need to put our energy to fix this or we are going to continue to have a turn style of people entering for detox and then being discharged back out to the Mass Ave./ Melena Cass Blvd. and using again,” said Fox.
Another major problem that Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George and Frank Baker want to solve is the large numbers of individuals coming from other cities and towns both from within the state and from across the country.
According to the City of Boston data from 2016 that worked with local shelters to obtain data, about 50 percent of the community of origin for first time homeless single adults come from somewhere else. Essaibi-George said that is because so much of what the City of Boston is doing is not being done elsewhere.
Some individuals traveled from as far away as Alaska, California, and Florida. The largest numbers of residents are coming from Massachusetts’s cities and towns with Brockton with 50, Cambridge 38, Chelsea 33, Everett 40, Lynn 46, Malden 45, Somerville 30, and Worcester 41.
“We need to start pounding on the doors of the other elected officials outside of the city to do their part,” said Essaibi-George. “We need their help in this because it is breaking the city’s back. It is breaking your back as an immediate resident to this area but it is also breaking our financial back.”
Michael Botticelli, the executive director of Grayken Center for Addiction, Boston Medical Center (BMC) and former White House Drug Policy Director said that due to the magnitude of this epidemic, local communities and towns need to start providing treatment at the local level.
“Communities have some level of responsibility for building capacity in their own communities and it serves the people better if they can be taken care of in their own home town,” said Botticelli.
He said that currently BMC is working throughout the state to increase the capacity of community health centers to do drug-treatment for over 6,000 people. Botticelli said that communities are part of the strategy and BMC is trying to deploy their programs to other parts of the state.
“It is a really valid focus of the work that not only we have to do but the state has to do as well,” said Botticelli.
One resident in the South End asked how there can be more communication moving forward and how can a resident help tackle these issues.
Fox agreed and pointed to a new 311-button enhancement that is in the works to begin to capture non-emergency addiction and recovery related incident. All of the reports will be routed directly to the Boston Public Health Commission Recovery Services for immediate response. After hours, it will be forwarded to 911 for a response.
“This public forum is sort of our birth of our new communication feedback-vehicle that we need to develop and deal with,” said Fox.
“It was by design,” said Essaibi-George. “It took a while to get everyone on board and in the same room talking about this. Part of the initial goal of the working group was collect the data, get the information and get a hand on what is happening identify some of the things we can work on before coming out to the community.”
“I think this is bringing out work to the public and getting feedback to see where to go next.”