NEWSLETTER: Week of Dec. 21

Advocates celebrate Christmas with individuals battling addiction, homelessness, Justice Department sues Walmart, much more

Welcome to the Substantive Newsletter, a weekly source for news from Boston’s addiction and recovery communities. 

First of all, thank you!

I launched my Patreon a week ago seeking support to continue my work with Substantive. Almost immediately, a handful of generous readers joined my online community. Your support is spectacular. It allows me to do this work I care so much about. It’s something I’m deeply honored to have.

So, let’s keep the momentum going. If you haven’t done so already, and if you have the means, please consider joining me on Patreon…


Regardless, though, the news will always remain free.

Here is that news delivered with an eye towards the holiday season we’re now in the thick of…


Advocates recognize holiday season with ‘Christmas on the Mile’ event

An outpouring of volunteer support helped local charities and businesses distribute truckloads of food and supplies to keep Bostonians living on the streets safe, Christmas morning. 

Dubbed “Christmas on the Mile” in recognition of the so-called “Methadone Mile” portion of the South End and Roxbury, the event was organized by the South End-Roxbury Community Partnership and involved nonprofits like Support the Soupman, which fights homelessness and supports those struggling without houses. 

Volunteers braved rain and lingering wind from a storm overnight and remained outside from 11am and 3pm. 

Following their work, several took to social media, positive and celebratory but still biting in their criticism of city and state failures to properly legislate responses to drug and housing crises here in Boston. 

Learn more via my article

STAYING ON TOP OF THIS: Ongoing stories we ought to follow 

Justice Department sues Walmart over opioid crisis

The Justice Department announced, this week, that it’s zeroing in on Walmart with a new lawsuit on behalf of the millions impacted by the prescription opioid epidemic. 

The latest chapter in a renewed prosecution of drug makers, this move comes as local lawmakers fervently demand harsh actions against companies like Purdue Pharma which actually made and marketed the infamous opioid Oxycontin. 

This novel filing hinges on the allegation that Walmart pharmacists failed their legal duty to vet and reject prescriptions from shady doctors, even and especially when other supermarket and drug store pharmacy chains outright cut off those doctors from writing prescriptions. 

“It’s not isolated or left off the hook just because the pill-mill doctor writes the prescription,” one federal official told the Wall St. Journal. “Pharmacists have a duty not to just fill whatever prescription comes in the door.”

Walmart had already countersued the government before even this filing landed. 

It’s alleging that the Justice Department is seeking a scapegoat to shield itself from its own oversight failures over the last two decades. 

This, though, is not the first legal action the Justice Department has taken in recent months. 

Back in November, the DOJ announced a record setting but widely criticized deal with Purdue that had the company pay out an $8.3 billion fine and plead guilty to charges of impeding federal investigations, among other things

Immediately, local congressional leaders like Cambridge Rep. Kathrine Clark, criticized what they saw as a sweetheart deal. 

State Attorney General Maura Healy joined the conversation too, pledging to personally fight the settlement and seek more punitive action against Purdue executives. 

As of Dec. 26, neither Healey, nor Clark had made any public statements about this new development.

Clark’s office did not, further, immediately respond to a request for comment by telephone on the topic. 

Learn more about this Walmart suit via Wall St. Journal reporting

SNAPSHOTS: Other stories in the news this week

Mother honors slain son on Christmas morning at ‘Mass and Cass’

Advocate and mom Ashely Tenczar made a public pilgrimage, Dec. 25 to the exact spot-on Boston’s Mass Ave. where her son was murdered while battling homelessness and heroin addiction, earlier this year. 

In an emotional moment, Tenzar laid a potted Christmas tree against a stone wall and shed a tear. 

Tenczar has been a voice in ongoing calls for increased city involvement in the drug crisis in its Mass and Cass area since her son was brutally stabbed outside a homeless shelter there in July. 

Damian Hughes came to the city to seek treatment for his heroin addiction. He’d been receiving support and had a job working at a nearby Amazon warehouse. But he relapsed in what has been described as an area full of open-air drug markets that are daunting for people trying to maintain sobriety.

As Hughes was beloved by the tight knit community of people battling addiction in that corner of Boston, his death has crystalized feelings of deep pain in a neighborhood no stranger to trauma. 

Tenczar’s testimony in the streets, in protests and with gestures like her Christmas visit, has, in kind, sought to keep Hughes’ memory alive.

See a video of Tenczar’s visit to the site of her son’s murder...

Cambridge relocates temporary emergency homeless shelter

Cambridge relocated an emergency COVID-19 homeless shelter to a new home within a building owned by the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, officials announced, this month. 

Back in Boston, the move was hailed as a win for advocates frustrated about centralization of homelessness and addiction services in the Mass and Cass area of the city. 

They see Cambridge’s efforts as alleviating a social service burden that could otherwise fall on their community.

“This is what you call shared responsibility,” South End-Roxbury Community Partnership organizer Yahaira Lopez wrote in a Facebook post responding to the news. 

As Cambridge continues services, though, questions both persist and arise. 

  • City health officials told the Harvard Crimson in September that roughly 60 people were visiting their shelter per night at that time. That space had room for those guests with plenty of beds to spare. 

    Now, though, the Spaulding facility does not even offer 60 beds, posing potential problems as cold weather lingers through the next three months and makes outdoor life unpleasant if not dangerous.

  • Cambridge officials are refusing to shelter people not already in their system. 

    Phrased as a desire to “not add anyone new,” this process, in practice, bars anyone who had not interacted with Cambridge homelessness outreach services prior to the pandemic from getting shelter. 

    That has advocates concerned particularly as pre-pandemic, private sources for shelter shrivel.

Addiction and homelessness are intertwined as issues, often inflaming one another and contributing to collateral impacts on neighborhoods like Boston’s Mass and Cass area. 

Read my article exploring these new developments in Cambridge and contextualizing this all in the recent history of responses to homelessness during the pandemic-era in both Boston and Cambridge...

Harvard doctors offer ‘reasons to be cheerful’ among recovery stories

Recovery is attainable, albeit incremental. 

That’s the message a group of Boston researchers affiliated with the Recovery Research Institute shared, this month, through an optimistic new paper published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. 

Built on a survey of more than 25,000 people in recovery, the work focuses on a collection of positive outcomes of addiction. Those, they say, are often overlooked compared to more negative focused paths of inquiry, such as review of crime or overdose data relative to addictions. 

More than 80% of survey respondents reported experiencing at least one of those positive outcomes, which included self-improvement, family engagement, civic participation and economic participation.

“These achievements are independently associated with measures of well-being including greater self-esteem, happiness, quality of life, and recovery capital,” the paper authors write. 

Read the paper abstract itself…

And see a summary of the rest of the document through the website Recovery Review...

What’s next?

I’m keeping an eye on requests for comment.

Over the past two weeks, in particular, I’ve noted, on several occasions, how individuals mentioned in my articles and newsletter recaps could not be immediately reached for comment.

I’ve still left phone messages and sent emails, though.

Now, I’m hoping to get some answers.

I’ll be pushing, this week, for a reply from potential 2022 candidate for governor Danielle Allen. She has an interested series of articles written about addiction that I discussed in my own writing last week. I reached out to her campaign office and have not yet heard back.

I’m also looking for answers to questions sent to Rep. Kathrine Clark about that new Walmart DOJ lawsuit just as I’m seeking a conversation with the researchers behind that interesting new “Reasons to be Cheerful” study, also mentioned above.

There’s a lot going on.

Hopefully, this time next week, I’ll have some new perspectives to share from within this broad community and discussion.

Be sure to subscribe to catch it all…