Mass. State Reps have a new leader. What's this mean for state and local addiction policy?

The State House of Representatives just elected Ronald Mariano as their new Speaker, this week. In the months and years to come, he could well steer conversations on legislative items on addiction.

The Speaker’s Chair stands before the empty chambers of the Mass. House of Representatives. Quincy’s Ronald Mariano just became this state’s new Speaker of the House. (Photo used under Creative Commons License)

Massachusetts’ newest Speaker of the House is a veteran Quincy politician with a complicated record of work, communication and lack thereof on addiction and the closed Long Island Recovery Campus.

Elected by his colleagues, Wednesday, to succeed outgoing speaker Robert DeLeo, Ronald Mariano has risen to his new position with broad support from the Democratic majority on Beacon Hill. And while he’s kept his distance from some of his caucus’ more progressive leaning drug policy proposals, like the creation of safe drug consumption sites, Mariano still brings with him a sparse but existing history of statements on addiction. 

“We are truly in the midst of a public health crisis and the demand for addiction treatment services in our region continues to grow,” he said said in one 2015 press release shared by the company Spectrum Health Systems. 

That year, Mariano celebrated the expansion of an existing addiction treatment facility in Weymouth. 

That location, in turn, celebrated itself for responding to increased need following the closure of the Long Island Recovery Campus, miles to the north the previous year.

“With 60 detoxification beds eliminated as a result of the Long Island Bridge closure, there was a clear and immediate need for this type of treatment service,” Spectrum President and CEO Charles Faris said in his company’s statement, at the time. “By offering multiple levels of treatment in one location, we can provide better continuity of care and ultimately improved outcomes for our patients.”

The Long Island Bridge came down in 2014 after inspectors deemed its more than 60-year-old structure unsafe. 

By severing the connection from the Quincy mainland to a Boston island, however, the demolition dealt a dagger’s blow to Massachusetts’ recovery services system, forcing the state to close what had been a sprawling medical campus in the Boston Harbor.

That loss, Boston officials now acknowledge, has directly inflamed issues of open drug use and homelessness back in the South End and Roxbury as people once served on Long Island have relocated to a community saturated with lingering services. 

“More and more things just keep getting poured into this city,” local advocate and South End Resident Marla Smith said in a recent interview with Substantive. “…I think it’s an absolutely inhumane situation. What’s going on here is just outrages.” 

The South End and Roxbury are overburdened by the needs of residents with addictions, experts say. 

Reconstruction of the Long Island Bridge and subsequent reopening of the Long Island Recovery Campus, those same experts argue, could alleviate some of that strain. 

Back in Quincy, though, city officials have fought Boston’s efforts to do just that, prompting a lawsuit between municipalities that only just tilted in favor of the bridge project following a State Supreme Court ruling.

As he represents Quincy alongside State Sen. John Keenan and three other representatives, Mariano has made few public statements about his city’s opposition to the Long Island Bridge. 

Likewise, his office has not responded to a Substantive request for comment asking a variety of questions on addiction policy in Massachusetts.

Spectrum Health, mentioned earlier, has also not responded to a request for comment on their addiction services and work with legislators like Ronald Mariano.

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