MOAR hosted a Boston policy dialogue at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital on March 12 to discuss prevention, treatment, and discovery of addiction.
MOAR (Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery) is an organization dedicated to creating a coalition with other addiction-oriented groups to educate the public about the value of recovery from alcohol and other addictions.
About 50 people attended, including local lawmakers and representatives from local organizations dedicated to treatment and recovery.
Allison Bauer, director of the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, was optimistic about prevention programs in the state. She hopes to implement the Good Behavior Game into elementary schools and high school to focus on prevention.
“All kids are going to face issues, and it doesn’t matter if they’re from good schools or bad schools. We need to give them a skill set to help them address it early,” she said.
Bauer also said she’s also trying to give parents tools to help their kids.
“Researchers says that the most important influence on young people are the things that their parents tell them,” Bauer said. “The Department [of Substance Addiction Services] put together Stop Addiction Before it Starts, a media campaign designed to infuse parents with energy and knowledge they need to be able to talk to their kids about drugs and the choices that they’re making.”
The Stop Addiction Before it Starts campaign is in English and in Spanish.
State Sen. William Brownsberger discussed the political effort that has happened in the last few years about “lifting people up instead of locking people up.” He discussed the comprehensive bill that the state Senate has passed which has topics like decriminalization of various offenses, reducing mandatory minimum sentences, removing solitary confinement, and supporting inmates that are terminally ill. He also said that a “tangle of bureaucracy” holds people back when they are trying to “get straightened out” after being released from prison.
The state Senate and the state House of Representatives have been discussing their various criminal justice reform bills, and Brownsberger hopes that in the near future they will come to a compromise to update the legislation.
Local state Rep. Liz Malia spoke, and also shared her personal experiences in long-term recovery. She said that she was inspired by the late Kevin Fitzgerald, a politician who was one of the first people she had ever heard publicly talk about their personal recovery. She feels that she is continuing the work that Fitzgerald started.
Malia said that this year she’s excited to finish the legislation around criminal justice reform.
“There’s a role for everyone in this room to play,” Malia said. “This is a really historic time right now. We’re looking at the potential with criminal justice reform, with a budget, with a governor who gets it and is really working with us, and this network which keeps getting bigger and stronger.”
Roger Oser, principal of Ostiguy Recovery High School, spoke about the value of recovery high schools in the state. Recovery high schools offer a safe space for students up until age 21 to continue their recovery in an academic environment. Every student who attends the high school has access to housing and treatment.
A student at Ostiguy Recovery High School spoke about her problems with drug addiction and journey. She has been sober for four months, and considers Ostiguy her second family.
“I used to romanticize my disease so much, and I romanticized my lifestyle because I thought it was so beautiful and nihilistic that I just did exactly and said exactly what I wanted all the time,” the student said. “I didn’t see that I was destroying myself slowly but surely. Now I have hopes and dreams, and I want to live and be part of my family. I’m filled with gratitude.”
Alexis Walls, who works with Allston Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force (ABSATF), mobilizes residents and community agencies to prevent substance abuse in their community. She spoke about a campaign that ABSATF has to prevent alcohol advertising on the MBTA. In 2012, prevention advocates across Massachusetts influenced the MBTA to ban alcohol advertising on all MBTA property, but in 2017 that ban was reversed. The campaign now includes petitions and mobilizing residents to call the MBTA to voice comments.
“This move to ban alcohol advertising would have a vast impact on public health in Massachusetts,” Walls said. The organization drafted up a resolution for organizations and a petition for individuals to sign to show their commitment to keeping the MBTA alcohol advertising-free.
“The more the senior counsel board of directors hears from residents and constituents, the more likely they are to reverse their decision or to at least to take a closer look at how alcohol advertisements are being implemented,” said Walls.
Vic DiGravio, CEO of Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) speaking on behalf for Massachusetts Coalition for Addiction Services, said that a key priority in the coming years is to create more recovery centers, and ABH will be lobbying for more funding for recovery centers.
“We need more recovery centers. Those of you who attend these centers know that it’s a place that you can go to meet with peers and get the support you need,” he said.
DiGravio also said there was a need for more money for jail diversion to keep people out of prisons.
Mario Chaparro, program manager for Boston Public Health Commitment Engagement Center, spoke about his history with addiction and being incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit as a teenager.
“I didn’t learn anything about addiction or my disease,” Chaparro said about his personal experiences with the criminal justice system. “That’s a problem. I was released back into the community with no support system, so the path was back to drugs.”
Chaparro said that the criminal justice system isn’t “bad,” but that it needs reform.
“I just want it to get better,” Chaparro said. He said that he now has his life on track and has custody over his children.