Guest Op-Ed: How We’re Recognizing Recovery Month in Boston

By Mayor Martin J. Walsh

September is Recovery Month. It’s a time to raise awareness about substance use disorder and those who need treatment and support, celebrate Bostonians who are in recovery, remember the people we’ve lost to the disease, and show our gratitude to the treatment workers who do life-saving work. 

In Boston, we’ve spent years building one of the strongest recovery systems in the country. Forming strong partnerships with the community and a network of providers, we’ve made it easier for people to access quality, affordable treatment and support. 

We’re training first responders as recovery coaches, and diverting more people who are struggling with substance use into treatment, instead of the criminal justice system. We’re also giving people the tools they need to sustain their recovery, with historic investments in affordable housing, job training, and re-entry programs. 

We prioritize prevention and education, and we’re working to close disparities in access to care by responding to the unique risk factors that people face across different neighborhoods and different racial and ethnic identities.

COVID-19 has underscored the urgency of this work. The pandemic has been especially hard for people with substance use disorder. We know how many people throughout our region rely on our recovery programs on a daily basis. That’s why all of the City’s recovery services have remained open throughout the entire coronavirus emergency, including our 24-hour Recovery Services hotline, walk-in programs, drug user health programming, street outreach teams, and our Engagement Center. We quickly adapted all of our programming to meet public health protocols, and moved several services outdoors to allow for proper social distancing. 

The work of our recovery services staff has been nothing short of heroic. They continued to serve people 24 hours per day, seven days per week, often risking their own health to provide this life-saving care. On top of that, many of them volunteered at our Boston Hope field hospital. Our recovery services staff have continued to serve the people of Boston with professionalism and compassion, in the Mass Ave./Melnea Cass Boulevard area in the South End where many of our programs are located, and throughout the city. They deserve our deepest gratitude and support. 

Our commitment to building a comprehensive recovery campus on Long Island in Boston Harbor has also not wavered. The Long Island Recovery Campus will meet the most pressing needs of our city and our region, including more treatment beds, more employment training and transitional housing, and a more seamless continuum of care to help close the gaps between stages of the recovery. Increasing our investment in this care is key to getting people on a path to recovery, and to addressing quality of life concerns, including crime and homelessness. The pandemic has shown the importance of bold, long term investments in community health, and the Long Island campus will be a cornerstone of this work in the years to come. In the meantime, we will continue to adapt to the pandemic, and make it easier for people to safely access recovery services in person and online. 

We’ve also adapted our programming in observance of Recovery Month. The City and our partners will host virtual and socially-distanced versions of our favorite annual Recovery Month traditions, and new events as well. They include: a virtual opioid screening and awareness day on September 22; a virtual Recovery Day celebration on September 23; and a virtual panel about our new Project Opportunity program, which supports people with CORI reports in getting employment on September 29. For more details about these and other events, visit Boston.gov/recovery.

One of the most important ways we can all recognize Recovery Month is by committing to ending the stigma around substance use disorder once and for all. When you see someone struggling with substance use in the Mass/Cass area or elsewhere, remember that many of them are battling a serious disease. They need more compassion, not more stigma. Changing our culture and the way we think about these issues will help more people feel comfortable accepting help, which makes our entire community healthier.

I fight the stigma by being open about my own recovery from alcohol addiction. When people look at the Mayor of Boston, I want them to know that they are seeing the face of recovery. I got the help I needed, and it allowed me to follow my dream of serving the city I love. I believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to reclaim their life and follow their dreams. That’s what I fight for every day, and I’ll be devoted to this work for the rest of my life.

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