NEWSLETTER: Week of Jan. 11

Twin stories out of Quincy offer developments in the battle over the Long Island Bridge, a cache of documents is shedding light on the Mass and Cass Task Force, much more

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

It’s been a heck of a week that’s just been capped, from a reporting standpoint, by a major win for transparency in local addiction policy.

As I was writing this newsletter on Friday, after all, I received a long awaited pile of documents from city records keepers finally responding to a formal request I filed late last month.

Those pages, though imperfect in their narrative, offer an unparalleled look at the Mass and Cass 2.0 Task Force, which has, for over a year, deliberated on possible ways to solve addiction issues across Boston.

We’ve heard from the Task Force before. But their comments have always been filtered through a lens of political communications. There’s more apparent candor, meanwhile, in these meeting minutes.

I’m a few days late on this week’s newsletter after spending most of the weekend, so far, digging through this paper trove.

That being said, there’s a whole mountain of stories, this week. Some relate to the Mass and Cass Task Force. Others do not.

Here’s the news…

THE BIG STORY

City reveals months of Mass and Cass Task Force meeting notes

Boston records officers released nearly 100 pages of minutes, this week, from close to two dozen meetings of the mayoral appointed Mass and Cass 2.0 Task Force. 

The Task Force is a body of 25 elected officials, non-profit leaders and other key stakeholders convened with the sole purpose of brainstorming and developing solutions to addiction and homelessness issues in the effective epicenter of Boston’s drug crisis. 

Coming in response to duplicate records requests filed by both Substantive and South End activist Marla Smith, these documents detail at times candid and blunt discussions that elected officials, non-profit leaders and others held largely in private over the last 13 months. 

Read my extensive reporting to learn how leaders reacted to everything from a sudden rise in meth use to resident protests about conditions in their neighborhood…

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

Appeals court says ‘No’ to Philly safe consumption site, deals blow to local efforts

A Pennsylvania appeals court rejected an effort by Philadelphia harm reductionists to open the first safe drug consumption site in the US, this week. 

While this court does not have jurisdiction over Massachusetts, its decision could set an informal precedent for future cases considering safe consumption sites. That’s bad news for a group of advocates and legislators here in Massachusetts pushing for their own site, likely in Boston. 

Safe consumption sites, which allow illicit drug use under clinical supervision, are a popular means of mitigating overdose deaths in some foreign countries. They put people with addictions in medical settings and have, in some cases, encouraged people to seek treatment. 

In Massachusetts, a group of 22 state legislators recently signed on to a bill to create such a facility. They’re backed by local groups like the non-profit, SIFMA NOW, which see these sites as a way to save lives. 

Others, though, have concerns as residents primarily from the Mass and Cass area of Boston, where a safe consumption site would likely end up, say they haven’t been given proper opportunities to learn about all this. They see legislative statements of support and decry a lack of transparency. 

In Philadelphia, the picture is similar as efforts to create a safe consumption site there have rallied political support, but frustrated potential abutters to actual site locations. 

Now, it all may be stalled as this appeals court has decided safe consumption sites violate a still standing drug war era “crackhouse” statute aimed at discouraging concentrated drug use.

Philadelphia advocates told local reporters, this week, that they’ll continue their legal fight. 

Read outstanding AP reporting on this decision…

And see my reporting on the local safe consumption site debate to understand more of the similarities between these situations…

SNAPSHOTS: Other stories in the news this week

Quincy police bust drug lab, larger operation in unrelated raids

Quincy police were busy, this week, running a series of raids over just a matter of days to disrupt local drug trafficking outfits. 

Police say the incidents were not related to one another. Regardless, the discovery of a makeshift pill pressing plant and the seizure of large stores of hard drugs have advocates back in Boston blasting Quincy officials. 

As Quincy has opposed efforts to rebuild a bridge to an addiction recovery center in the Boston Harbor, experts here are accusing Boston’s municipal neighbor of ignoring its own addiction issues and, as a result, shoveling those with addictions into already overburdened service centers like the Mass and Cass area of the South End and Roxbury. 

Read my reporting on this for more…

State senator weighs in on drug lab scandal, structural racism still slowing push for justice

A decade after it began, one Massachusetts state senator is zeroing in on the fallout of this state’s sprawling drug lab scandal as a legislative new year’s resolution.

Writing on Facebook, Jan. 2, Jamie Eldridge, who represents a handful of suburban communities between Framingham and Worcester, called out issues hamstringing a nearly decade long fight for justice.

“As all elected officials and concerned residents look to how we can further tackle injustice in 2021, the ever-growing Massachusetts state drug crime lab scandal highlights not only a broken justice system where prosecutors are overly focused on securing convictions, but how justice is often delayed for working class and poor people, disproportionately in communities of color.”

The drug lab scandal has swirled since 2012 as the state discovered, but then covered up confirmed evidence tampering by two chemists at two facilities in Jamaica Plain and Amherst. 

As courts have thrown out thousands of cases tainted by the crimes of Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak respectively, thousands more remain on the records of men and women like William Cordero, who has spoken with Substantive on multiple occasions. 

Lawyers working primarily with the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU are still pushing for more dismissals. 

A new investigation is looking into possible tampering by a third chemist who worked closely with Dookhan. 

Various courts and discipline boards, meanwhile, are weighing whether to disbar three former state prosecutors involved in helping allegedly cover-up this scandal and preserve tainted convictions.

Eldridge, meanwhile, is one of the most progressive senators on Beacon Hill, having first been elected to the House of Representatives with groundswell support for campaign finance reform in the early 2000s. In 2016, he joined a group of protesters calling for a higher minimum wage and was arrested after symbolically blocking traffic alongside them. Back in 2013, he was one of the first state legislators to raise the alarm about the ways prosecutorial pressure could have created a climate complicit in Dookhan’s crimes, according to Boston Magazine.

Check out Boston Globe reporting that digs deeper into the latest fallout from this crisis…

And see my previous reporting on William Cordero’s personal journey as a “Dookhan Defendant…”

Still opposed to Long Island Bridge, Quincy suggests ferry service to addiction recovery campus

The Quincy City Council voted, this week, to offer funding for ferry service to and from Boston’s Long Island, just off the coast of its Squantum neighborhood. 

Still locked in a legal fight over its efforts to rebuild a bridge to the island, Boston officials likely won’t accept this offer, experts say. 

Access to Long Island has been a hot button issue in the addiction community since a 60-year-old bridge to the property closed in 2014. That bridge was the only way to get to a sprawling recovery campus that once offered treatment to countless Massachusetts residents battling addiction. 

Since the bridge was eventually demolished, that campus has sat shuttered, leaving addiction crises on the mainland to spiral. 

Boston wants to rebuild the bridge to Quincy’s shores. But Quincy officials don’t want any part of the project, citing environmental and, recently, traffic concerns. 

They’ve informally broached the idea of ferry service before. But Boston agencies are wary, saying that suggestion is a frivolous one, not actually allowing the city to support a reopened recovery campus on a 24/7 basis.

Get the latest on this via reporting from the Quincy Patch...

What’s next?

These Mass and Cass Task Force minutes won through a public records request are a big deal.

They’re also massive in the sheer breadth of topics they discuss.

As such, I’ll have multiple stories published in the coming days and weeks as I continue to try to sort through all this information.

Simultaneously, there’s a lot going on outside of the Mass and Cass region. I’m still following up on some politicians who have not been responding to requests for comment.

Likewise, the race to replace Marty Walsh as Boston’s mayor is continuing to complicate. We have, by my count, at least a dozen declared or potential candidates vying for the spot. I aim to dig through their records of writings and public statements to compare attitudes on addiction, recovery, and adjacent issues.

All this, of course, takes time and energy. So, here’s a humble plea for your support.

If you have the means please consider joining my Patreon page with a monthly pledge of as little at $3…

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If that’s not your thing, one time donations are immensely helpful, as well. Help me out through Venmo or PayPal…

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Money aside, subscribe to the free Substantive newsletter if you have not done so already…

And share this page if you know someone who would enjoy this reporting…

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Finally, a huge thanks to Julie Antelman, Golden Bryant, Jasmin Davis-Shearer, William Cordero, Marla Smith, Desi Murphy and “Jojo” for their help on Patreon, so far!