BOSTON, Mass.—Democratic candidate Joe Avellone announced in February that he would establish an Office of Recovery focused on substance abuse treatment if elected governor.
According to a statement released by the Avellone Campaign, the Office of Recovery would operate under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.The Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse would be folded into the new office.
The office would be staffed by regional coordinators who would work with local detox and rehabilitation facilities so that people can easily find immediate treatment for those in need of help in their area.
Avellone, currently the corporate senior vice president at the pharmaceutical research company PAREXEL International, told SPARE CHANGE NEWS that the office would also ease the punishments for those arrested for minor offensives, such as possession, in favor of placing them in proper drug treatment programs. It would also make better use of drug courts to relieve the over-burdened justice system.
Avellone says that a focus on treatment would save taxpayers money on housing inmates—a cost of $47,102 per prisoner, according to the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.
Three factors lead Avellone to this idea.
First, he practiced as a surgeon for some time, where he saw patients who struggled with addiction firsthand.
Second, he was on the board of Boston Healthcare for the Homeless from 2006 to 2012, where he “saw very clearly how substance abuse plays into the plight of this core population” and how addiction affects not just individuals but families.
“I believe getting them into treatment right away, in an easy way, will be extremely helpful to helping this population,” says Avellone. “I think the street teams that work in places like Boston Healthcare for the Homeless will know how to get these people in the system and help them right away.”
The third factor is the recent increase in prescription drug abuse, which can lead to harder drugs like heroin. Heroin is increasingly problematic in Massachusetts, and nearby Vermont has been called “America’s Heroin Capital.”
However, Avellone is not just reacting to recent headlines. “Like an iceberg, most of us just see the tip of it,” he said. “I’ve seen this issue come up in many different communities throughout the State.”
Avellone said that while the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse has done great work, the Commonwealth needs to implement something bigger to solve these issues. In Avellone’s words, his new office would be “a huge mind-shift.”
“We need to bring this to a much higher level and change the way we work with people,” Avellone explained. “We need something beyond the tools of a public health department.”
Avellone is not alone in calling for a shift in attitude. Recently, Gov. Deval Patrick told an audience at UMass Boston, “Treating those with substance abuse as prisoners is wrong. We must make the beds available for these individuals to receive proper treatment in proper settings.” Communities across the state are also preparing to open up medicinal marijuana dispensaries. [Editor’s note: See “Patrick Calls for Criminal Reform for Substance Abuse and Mental Illness” in this issue for more details on Governor Patrick’s speech at UMass Boston.]
Meanwhile, Boston’s new mayor, Martin Walsh, has stated his desire for all first responders to carry Narcan, a drug that counteracts the effects of heroin. The mayor’s office recently told the Associated Press that unintentional drug overdoses increased by 39 percent in Boston between 2010 and 2012. The office added that Boston EMS had administered Narcan 52 times since the beginning of the year, compared to 41 times over the same period in 2013. According to State health officials, the Narcan program has stopped more than 2,000 overdoses in the Commonwealth since 2007. On 24 February 2014, Massachusetts State Police reported 185 heroin-related deaths since 1 November 2013.