BOSTON – In the wake of both a national opioid crisis as well as public scrutiny after a series of related arrests in the South End, Mayor Marty Walsh and the City of Boston released a formal plan on Friday addressing the impact of the crisis on public health and local communities.
The Melnea Cass/Mass Ave 2.0 plan aims to ensure both public safety while providing greater resources for substance abuse recovery. While it specifically addresses Newmarket Square and surrounding communities, its primary focus is on the areas of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Mass. Ave., informally dubbed the “Methadone Mile.”
“...With respect to the opioid epidemic, public safety begins with public health,” reads the mission statement. “That means prioritizing the health of both residents and those struggling with substance use disorder, and, where possible, diverting people away from the criminal justice system and into treatment.”
The initiatives include a coordinated response team centered around the South End district, increasing overdose prevention training to treatment providers and community groups, additional naloxone rescue kits available for public access, increasing clean syringe distribution and disposal and providing monthly HIV/HCV/STI testing events at local shelters, as well as the expansion of community outreach teams to provide referrals for the neighborhood homeless community. In 2018, the homeless population of Massachusetts was estimated to be 20,068, with over 6,000 in the City of Boston alone.
“What we have on our hands is an opioid epidemic of historic proportions that is taking hold of too many lives, and tearing apart families in every city and town in our nation,” Walsh said in a statement regarding the plan. “As a society, we will never turn our backs on people who are at the most vulnerable time in their life.”
“Probably about 70 percent of what’s in the plan, we are already doing,” said Marty Martinez, director of the City’s Health and Human Services department during a public meeting regarding the plan on Thursday night. “And we are actively doing it. This plan coordinates it better, aligns it better, and connects it to goals and metrics that can be reported on. There’s about 30 percent of the plan that is expansion, more boots on the ground, more resources.”
“The idea is to make sure that we engage people to give them care, that we build trust and relationships, and that we do what we need to do to improve [the] quality of life... We’re seeing in this area — Melnea Cass and Mass. Ave. — this is the epicenter of the issues that we’re seeing. But substance use disorder is hitting every neighborhood in Boston. It’s on every corner and every neighborhood, even if you don’t see it. It’s happening in people’s homes, it’s happening in people’s basements.”
In the first six months of 2019, there have 611 confirmed opioid related overdose deaths in the State of Massachusetts. The Department of Public Health estimates there will be an additional 292 to 363 deaths. Approximately 181 residents of Boston have died from opioid related overdoses since 2018.