NEWSLETTER: Week of Feb. 1

Cambridge has taken the region's latest step towards decriminalization of psychedelics, a Boston rapper is speaking out about his story of addiction and racism, much more

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

It’s been a week of progress and simultaneous questions here in the city and elsewhere.

In Cambridge, those fighting to decriminalize psychedelics have won a new battle on a new front.

Simultaneously, though, tumult at the highest levels of city leadership is ongoing as the Boston Police Department shudders under scandal while Mayor Marty Walsh makes his transition into the administration of President Joe Biden. 

Through it all, a local rapper has shared his heartbreaking story of a life full of pain and loss due to addiction. Now he’s making art and demanding social reconciliation for generations of systemic racism.

That’s just the beginning of a wild slate of stories to get through. 

Here’s the news…


Cambridge joins push for psychedelics policy reform

City Councilors in Cambridge followed the lead of Somerville and several other municipalities nationwide, this week, with a vote to decriminalize naturally occurring psychedelic drugs. 

Two prominent groups -- Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and Decriminalize Nature -- have worked with leaders of both these major Boston neighbors to craft and pass new city ordinances. 

Getting attention on a national stage for their successes, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, in particular, is now focusing efforts on a letter writing campaign to Boston City Councilors. They want their state’s biggest community to take up their cause, next. 

Get the latest on all this via my recent reporting...

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

Chaos continues at BPD following Gross’ retirement

When William Gross abruptly retired from his job as Boston Police Commissioner, last week, he turned a page on a chapter in local law enforcement history packed with controversial actions on addiction. 

Within a matter of days, though, his successor, Dennis White, ended up suspended under a larger scandal now threatening to eclipse anything Gross weathered. 

As the Boston Globe reported, White allegedly pushed, then threatened to shoot his then wife during a domestic violence incident in 1999. 

Though all this took place while White was serving within the Boston Police Department, Mayor Marty Walsh said in an initial statement to the Globe that he had no previous knowledge of White’s checkered past. 

Walsh is currently in the process of getting confirmed as President Joe Biden’s Labor Secretary. He could resign from the Mayor’s Office even before the end of the month.

As the city investigates, meanwhile, White sits on leave. 

Boston Police Superintendent-In-Chief Gregory Long, meanwhile, is currently serving as Acting Police Commissioner. He’s a veteran of the department with a particular resume focused on homicide and gang investigations. 

SNAPSHOTS: Other stories in the news this week

Police make major meth, cocaine, fentanyl arrests in hotel raid

Boston Police, working with federal officials, arrested three men at a DoubleTree hotel in Allston, this week, after an undercover investigation revealed a ring of methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl distribution. 

According to Live Boston and an affidavit filed in the US District Court of Massachusetts, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency assigned an undercover agent to this case after a suspect in a separate investigation offered information on a Boston drug trafficker in exchange for leniency in his case.

That informant connected the DEA’s agent with a man named Daniel Lennon who unwittingly then sold meth to the government in two separate purchases totaling just over $2,600. 

When police came knocking at the DoubleTree, Feb. 4, they arrested Lennon and two other men, additionally seizing several boxes of evidence, Live Boston reports.

This bust comes as advocates in areas hard hit by addiction, like the Mass and Cass region of the South End and Roxbury, say they’ve seen an uptick in meth use. 

“It’s a whole other high,” city council candidate and South End community advocate Leon Rivera said in an interview with Substantive last year, comparing meth to heroin. “…It gets you a little more aggressive.” 

This bust, in particular, potentially disrupted the operation of a man selling more than 10 pounds of meth per week, according to that aforementioned affidavit. 

Based on federal assessments of drug tolerance in people with addictions, that 10 pound-per-week rate could have been enough to supply more than 300 individuals with a week’s worth of meth doses. 

In part based on that fact, though, experts say drug raids aren’t the solution to the addiction crisis. 

There are other sources for drugs that pop up when one or two even large-scale traffickers go to jail. 

The underground economy continues. And addictions rage without support structures that reform-minded advocates say could be funded with diverted law enforcement money. 

“All of it...comes back to the social and political determinants of health, including poverty, homelessness, and a lack of access to mental health care, that places people at higher risk of drug use and addiction in the first place,” Boston researcher Jamie Lim, wrote in an email to Substantive, last year. “We need to address all of these factors to combat opioid, stimulant, or any other substance use disorder.” 

Read my extensive reporting on meth in Boston...

McKinsey & Company reaches settlement with Mass AG, others, in opioid suit

Controversial consulting firm McKinsey & Company will pay out a nearly $600 million settlement to 47 states that recently sued over McKinsey’s work with Purdue Pharma to allegedly “turbocharge” the opioid epidemic over the last 20 years. 

Massachusetts is getting $15 million from that larger deal after Attorney General Maura Healey led this latest charge for accountability. 

As McKinsey gets off without having to admit wrongdoing, they’re settling a case stemming from revelations that they helped Purdue rebrand and continue pushing its deadly and addictive painkiller, Oxycontin, even as the opioid crisis surged through the 2010s. 

“Today’s agreement sets a new standard for accountability in one of the most devastating crises of our time,” Healey said in a press release, further detailing how Massachusetts will use its settlement money. “As a result, our communities will receive substantial resources for treatment, prevention, and recovery services.”

McKinsey pulled in $10.5 billion in 2019, Forbes reports. On that scale, this new settlement cuts roughly 5% of the company’s annual revenue. 

State legislator to bring psychedelics decriminalization discussion to House of Representatives

Bolstered, in part, by aforementioned action in his home communities, Somerville and Cambridge State Rep. Mike Connolly told the Boston Globe, this week, that he plans to soon push for a major step towards statewide decriminalization of psychedelic drugs.

Without actually forcing a legalization vote, Connolly wants to file a bill that would impanel experts to study whether Massachusetts should take further action. 

“This ought to be taken out of the realm of the criminal justice system and become part of the way we look at people’s health,” Connolly said. “It may strike some folks as an unconventional approach, but there’s a growing body of evidence that points to how entheogenic substances can offer hope for people struggling with intractable PTSD, depression, and substance use disorder — all of which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated.”

Read Boston Globe reporting on the viability of this type of actions and the potential long term future of decriminalization and legalization efforts in Massachusetts…

Boston rapper discusses experiences with addiction

In a lengthy conversation with Substantive, underground Boston rapper Miles Karter has shared his harrowing story of a life lived traveling throughout the Northeast, brushing against issues of racism, addiction and more along the way. 

These days, Karter works out of a small room at the Dorchester Art Project. He’s making music built around dense lyrics that, in turn, hold mainly autobiographical “street narratives.”

Having seen loved ones die due to addiction as others wither under the oppression of America’s War on Drugs, Karter says change needs to come for local and national communities. 

Read my full profile of Miles Karter...

What’s next?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve zeroed in on the topic of psychedelics as a rapidly emerging storyline in the broader conversation about addiction, drugs and recovery in Boston. 

This week, that reporting focus paid off as two major stories emerged from Cambridge. 

We have another city decriminalizing natural psychedelics. 

Now we also have a state legislator on the record flirting with the concept of statewide implementation of these progressive policies. 

That’s big news. 

More and more, with each passing week, this topic becomes a huge one worth keeping an eye on. 

Outside of psychedelics there’s a possibility for future developments with everything from the ongoing uncertainty at the BPD, to the proliferation of a new meth epidemic through the Northeast, to the seemingly ever-present fallout of Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis. 

I’ll be keeping an eye on all of those topics. 

Finally, then, as a programming note of sorts, this week’s reporting marked a milestone. 

My profile of rapper Miles Karter is a move months in the making as I aim to expand the focus of Substantive to include the work of artists impacted or influenced by addiction. 

Support me as I keep up with this effort by joining my Patreon, if you can…


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