Guest Op-Ed: Boston’s next Steps to Address the Opioid Crisis

By Mayor Martin J. Walsh

In big cities and small towns across the United States, the opioid epidemic is tearing families apart. It is inflicting incredible pain, and it will have implications for years to come. In Boston, we’ve made this issue a top priority. And now, we’re ready to take the next step with a new strategic plan called Melnea Cass/Mass Ave. 2.0.

This new plan focuses on a neighborhood in Boston that has been hardest-hit by the addiction crisis: the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Mass. Ave. in the South End, often referred to as Mass/Cass. For decades, this has been a hub of vital services for people struggling with substance use disorder, mental health issues, and homelessness. It’s one of the places where the city and its wide array of partners, including nonprofits, medical centers, and service providers, have dedicated the most resources to outreach and treatment programs. People from throughout the state and region have been drawn to the area due to the availability of treatment, health care, and shelter. We recognize the impact this is having on the surrounding communities which have borne a disproportionate share of the issue. In addition to those struggling with addiction, we also need to make sure that the neighbors, families, schools, and businesses in the area get the support they need.

That’s why this neighborhood is ground zero for our response. Focusing on this area, we will be able to reach the most people in need of life-saving care, and address pressing safety and quality-of-life concerns for the surrounding community as well. At the same time, we’re expanding services citywide, and calling for improved access to resources outside Boston and throughout the region.

The 2.0 plan is informed by public health and public safety professionals, community members, and people recovering from substance use disorder themselves. This plan has three focus areas: public health, quality of life, and public safety. We’re hiring new staff members designated to work in the area, and funding for new programs and initiatives to get more people the help they need. Our plan lays out specific, achievable, and measurable goals for the months ahead. We will improve coordination between city services and make sure that city agencies and our partners are working together as efficiently and effectively as possible. It will allow us to get more people off the streets and into treatment, and make the neighborhood safer for everyone.

This new plan builds on the work we’ve done over the past 5 years. Since I took office in 2014, we have invested  $64 million across several City departments to address the addiction crisis. We created the first municipal Office of Recovery Services in the country. We created a 24-hour hotline to connect people to quality, affordable addiction treatment. We’re investing in shelters, street outreach workers, and training for first responders. We’re suing the pharmaceutical industry that played a role in creating this crisis, and making sure that they help fund the relief efforts. And we have a plan to build the comprehensive recovery campus on Long Island that our entire region needs.

To me, this work is very personal. I am a recovering alcoholic. I understand how addiction can take hold and derail a person’s life. I believe that we need to address this issue with empathy and compassion. We also need to focus on the root causes. Often times, when people turn to addictive substances, it’s out of loneliness or desperation. It’s an outcome of trauma, fear, and poverty. Stigmatizing the disease of addiction only discourages people from getting help for themselves and their families. People don’t need more judgement, they need more help. Building a strong, loving community that lifts people up is one of the most important things we can do. This work will save lives and change our city for the better. This is an opportunity to set an example for the nation, and help other communities rise up from under this crisis, too.

I encourage everyone to read the Melnea Cass/Mass Ave. 2.0 plan at This is also where you can learn more about the work we’re doing citywide, and how you or a loved one can get access to help. This is one of the biggest challenges we’ll face as a city, and we’re rising to the occasion, together.

Martin J. Walsh is the Mayor of Boston.

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