A perspective from the suburbs, ‘People don’t have to go to Boston to get treatment anymore’

An addiction expert from Raynham has an outlook on recovery service centralization contrary to widely shared opinions here in Boston

A photo shows part of North Andover. Suburbs like this have been under fire from Boston addiction experts for failing to shoulder the burden of providing addiction recovery care. (Used under Creative Commons License)

A prominent administrator of support groups for families of people with addictions argued in a recent interview with Substantive that the suburbs actually have the kinds of recovery services that other experts say they lack. 

Comments from Raynham resident and Learn to Cope founder Joanne Peterson, indeed, offer a unique perspective just as state legislators and ground level advocates in Boston generally agree their city shoulders a disproportionate burden in the regional addiction fight. 

“People don't have to go to Boston to get treatment anymore,” Peterson said in an interview, Jan. 8. 

Learn to Cope is a state-wide organization leading groups in 25 communities. At its helm, Peterson brings personal experience, having seen addiction in her siblings and, later, in her own son during the early 2000s. 

Over the last two decades, she’s curried favor with politicians from Senator Ed Markey to Gov. Charlie Baker. She’s likewise consulted on numerous public and private projects related to addiction. 

She’s continued, still, also speaking directly with clients and group facilitators on the front lines of the current opioid crisis. 

Through this all, Peterson recognizes that historically, this state has seen a major lack of recovery services in suburban communities. That’s not the case anymore, though, she argues.

“[The shortage] has significantly improved compared to five or 10 years ago,” she said in her interview.

Specifically, she now points to Gosnold Treatment Center in Falmouth, High Point Treatment Center in Brockton and AdCare Hospital in Worcester. These facilities, she says, have provided new options for recovery service to suburban families and individuals. 

Operational since the 1970s, Gosnold did partner with area hospitals throughout the 2010s, adding particularly successful satellite programs in Centerville, Stoughton and Nantucket in 2016 and 2017.

AdCare bought its own additional facility in North-Kingstown, Rhode Island in 2015.

High Point has been in existence since 1996 but has shouldered an increased burden of its own since the current opioid crisis surged following the Great Recession. At the peak of the current crisis, though, one High Point program had to close, in part due to low participation.

As Peterson makes her conclusions based on her experience and addiction expertise, others have lingering concerns. 

“There are no treatment centers in the suburbs,” said Ashley Curran, a mother who experienced addiction alongside her husband and her son. “Try going to Wellesley and saying, ‘Hi, I live in Wellesley and I need to detox in Wellesley.’”

Curran grew up in Westborough, Mass. but battled heroin addiction for years in the Mass and Cass area of Boston. She sought treatment but had to bounce between those Boston facilities to actually get help. 

Over a decade later, when her son, Damien, battled his own addiction, he still had to go to Boston. He, himself, lived on the streets alongside dozens of others in situations like him all before he was fatally stabbed last summer. 

“You go down there and ask people where they're from and probably 90% are going to tell you [they’re from] some kind of suburb or somewhere else,” Curran said of the situation in the area.

She’s backed up by arrest data from various police actions in the Mass and Cass region showing people from across New England getting picked up for drug possession near treatment centers they ostensibly came to the city to get help from.

State legislators and local politicians agree, meanwhile, that Greater Boston communities could serve to open new recovery bed space outside of the city center.

All this difference in opinion between suburban and urban voices, raises questions about communication within the world of addiction medicine.

There are clusters of people from the suburbs going to Boston to get addiction treatment and often ending up living on the streets of the South End and Roxbury.

All the while, there are also existing addiction recovery services in the suburbs, some of which are expanding even as others close due to low participation.

This happens in the midst of a national addiction epidemic that’s killing individuals across the state.

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