Tuesday afternoon, the city of Boston announced that people looking for addiction recovery services can now call 311 for help. Officials hope this new integration will make it easier for Bostonians to find a recovery program for themselves or their loved ones.
“A lot of families… don’t know who they should call or when they should call—they’re desperate,” said Mayor Marty Walsh, speaking at PAATHS in the South End. “Now that desperation can end by punching in three numbers.”
Mayor Walsh, a recovering alcoholic himself, knows that for many people, one phone call can make a difference. “I didn’t know what to expect on the other end of that phone, and somebody walked me through [it all]… and were able to get me into a program,” he said, sharing his own story of recovery.
The city’s 311 operators will connect callers to professionals at PAATHS (Providing Access to Addictions Treatment, Hope and Support), a Boston Public Health Commission agency that helps people find appropriate treatment—whether that’s a methadone clinic or a 12 step program.
“We understand there are many paths to recovery,” said Lia Beltrame, Director of PAATHS. “Our role is to help people navigate the system.” So far this year, PAATHS placed over 1,500 clients in treatment programs. They also saw 5,000 walk-ins and received 3,000 calls.
Addressing concerns about overcrowding, the city promised all callers will be linked to a recovery service, and that treatment opportunities won’t be limited to Boston. If a Boston service is full, PAATHS will look for vacancies in places like Framingham, Cape Cod, or even neighboring states.
Other speakers at the launch included Jennifer Tracey, director of Boston’s Office of Recovery Services; Felix Arroyo, chief of Health and Human Services; Monica Valdes Lupi, Executive Director of the BPHC; Niall Murphy, Director of Boston 311; and Craig, a former PAATHS client in recovery.
Craig commended PAATHS and its ability to lobby for clients seeking treatment. “To have somebody like the people at PAATHS help you, make the calls for you, [it makes] the people on the other end of the line take you more seriously. It shows that you want it,” he said.
Traditionally, 311 is a non-emergency hotline for reporting common issues like potholes, item removals, and broken streetlights. While the service can connect people to treatment, in cases of medical emergencies, like an overdose, 911 is still the appropriate number to call.
Boston’s Office of Recovery Services, the first office of its kind in the nation, oversaw the 311 intitiative.
It’s worth noting the city also plans to launch an online database to help match homeless clients to specific services as part of its Boston’s Way Home Initiative. For example, people who needed assisted living will be placed in the proper housing situation. While that could also include homeless clients who need treatment, Boston’s Way Home and the 311 initiative are unconnected at the moment.
Recovery Services director Tracey cited privacy laws as one reason the two systems haven’t integrated (such laws include, but are not limited to, HIPPA). Mayor Walsh, acknowledging that homelessness and addiction often intersect, says the plan is to eventually connect the two in some way.