NEWSLETTER: Week of Jan. 18

New information comes on the Mass and Cass Task Force, new drug policies from Mayoral Candidate Andrea Campbell are turning heads, much more.

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

City Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Andrea Campbell stole the show, this week, with a busy day of announcements and meetings with local addiction recovery advocates and experts, Jan. 22. 

Hers were not the only stories to break, recently, though. 

Progressive Somerville municipal leaders continued to make the kind of waves they’ve grown comfortable with in recent years via a fresh new drug policy decision.

There have been developments in the search for Massachusetts’ new US Attorney. 

And we’re learning more about the week-to-week, month-to-month operations of the Mass and Cass Task Force via meeting minutes released to Substantive, last week.

There’s a lot to get to.

Here’s the news…

THE BIG STORY

Mass and Cass Task Force has an attendance problem, review shows 

The Mass and Cass 2.0 Task Force met 10 times between March and December of last year. But on only one occasion, did all 24 appointed members show up, according to meeting minutes. 

That is one of several troubling statistics illustrating poor participation from a number of the key stakeholders that make-up the Task Force. 

Though it’s been touted by city officials, downtown, advocates are now saying the Task Force has not done enough to actually foster conversation and promote solutions to drug and homelessness problems in Boston’s addiction epicenter. 

They don’t blame the individuals missing meetings, simply saying this attempted solution has been spreading thin leaders who already have too much on their plates. 

Read my complete reporting

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

Rollins, others, on shortlist to be next Mass. US Attorney

Possible candidates for the top federal prosecutorial job in Massachusetts include Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins, a pair of Assistant US Attornies and a prominent private practice lawyer defending white collar clients in Boston, the Boston Globe reported this week. 

Veterans of the local court system, Rollins, Jennifer Serafyn, Deepika Bains Shukla and Josh Levy respectively have rich records on addiction and drugs. 

Rollins, of course, is a progressive DA with a national platform built on her, at times, lenient decision making on issues involving drugs. 

Sarafyn works in civil rights cases, these days, but has seen her job duties intersect with drug issues on at least one noteworthy occasion. 

Bains Shukla heads the US Attorney’s office in Springfield and, from that position, has led prosecutions of people accused of both major and small-scale drug trafficking  

Levy, meanwhile, has a list of recent clients that includes multiple big pharmaceutical companies accused of wrongdoing. He’s defended those individuals in court, helping win reduced punishments for their crimes. 

Read my complete reporting on this topic…

SNAPSHOTS: Other stories in the news this week

Campbell presents Mass and Cass plan

In just a matter of hours, this week, Boston City Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Andrea Campbell announced a policy plan to fight addiction in the Mass and Cass region, met with advocates already entrenched in that battle, and attended a walkthrough of the similarly troubled Clifford Park portion of Boston. 

Having protested for months under the banner of the South End-Roxbury Community Partnership, many residents are celebrating, this week, as they see their calls for change suddenly reflected in Campbell's diction on drugs in her constituency. 

“[It] sounds almost as if we dictated it to her, quite honestly,” advocate Marla Smith wrote on Facebook, this week, discussing Campbell’s plan.

Later, with her walkthrough, alone, Campbell took further steps that leaders like Smith have been asking for from elected officials for weeks. 

In an interview with Substantive last month, Smith acknowledged that even Campbell herself had attended a walkthrough with organizers earlier in the fall. 

In her case, and in many others, though, no one ventured far beyond the actual intersection of Mass Ave and Melnea Cass Blvd, itself, Smith said. 

This trip away from Mass and Cass and towards the Newmarket Square region changed that, giving residents a chance to show their councilor what they’ve seen outside the proverbial gauntlet that is Mass Ave. 

Read my complete reporting focused specifically on Campbell’s Mass and Cass plan…

Somerville decriminalizes psychedelic mushrooms

The Somerville City Council unanimously voted, Jan. 14, to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, handing a victory to local legalization advocates seeking to distance the world of drug consumption from the heavy hands of law enforcement. 

Pushed for by the groups Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and Decriminalize Nature Massachusetts, this vote technically creates a resolution that calls on city officials to draft a final ordinance. 

As these substances remain illegal on both the state level, even that final ordinance will lack the teeth of larger marijuana decriminalization efforts nationwide, for example. 

It will simply ask local police to deprioritize arrests on mushroom possession. Likewise, it will further ask Middlesex County DA and Sommerville native Marian Ryan to avoid any harsh prosecution of cases that do come across her desk. 

Though partially ceremonial, this isn’t a novel move for a local government. Oakland, Calif.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Vancouver, Canada; Washington D.C.; Michigan’s Washtenaw County; and Denver, Colo. have all passed similar resolutions in recent years, according to the site DoubleBlind, which covers natural psychedelics in a journalistic capacity.  

Last year, the entire state of Oregon, meanwhile, decriminalized a variety of drugs, including mushrooms. 

Back in Massachusetts, advocates have seen national efforts. Now they’ve had success in a local municipality. Next, they have their eyes set on the State House.

“In the months to come, we are confident several other communities will also decriminalize entheogens or all controlled substances with our help,” lead organizer James Davis told DoubleBlind. “And we are filing a state bill this month that will create a legislative task force to study statewide decriminalization.”

Read that full article by DoubeBlind..

Campbell comments on new Biden administration

City Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Andrea Campbell said, this week, that she’s optimistic about the chances of a better federal response to local addiction crises under the new presidential administration of Joe Biden. 

Speaking in that aforementioned call with Mass and Cass advocates on Jan. 22, Campbell alluded to Biden without specifically mentioning his name.

“Now that we have a new partner down in DC, there have been new conversations about...how might the federal government step up,” she said. 

By a number of metrics, now former President Donald Trump came into office near the peak of the national opioid epidemic. 

Under his watch, the national overdose rate did fall for the first time in nearly three decades. His aids have loudly pointed to this as a sign of success.

As China remains one of the top exporters of the deadly drug fentanyl to the US, Trump did successfully pressure foreign officials to finally classify fentanyl as a controlled substance. 

In 2018, he approved $8 billion in spending to fight opioid addiction.

Throughout his presidency, he also pushed distribution of the overdose reversing drug, Narcan, 

Administrative errors, however, hamstrung the efforts of government agencies during the last four years, leaving the US in a worse place, critics say, then it could have been had Trump acted differently. 

His administration declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency soon after he came into office. But they then let that declaration lapse after two years due to a clerical oversight.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy ran without a director for more than two years as Trump initially failed to nominate one. When he finally did nominate Rep. Tom Marino, his confirmation fell through as reporters learned about $100,000 in donations Marino took from pharmaceutical lobbyists during the drafting of a bill those lobbyists supported. 

Funding, though welcome in 2018, has, further, been inconsistent as national advocates beg for continued support of anti-addiction measures. 

Biden now represents an opportunity for change, advocates and public officials like Andrea Campbell hope. 

Learn more about national addiction policy under President Trump via CNN reporting

What’s next? 

As promised in my last newsletter, this week’s work focused, in part, on digging deeper into those Mass and Cass Task Force meeting minutes won via a Substantive public records request, this month. 

There’s still more to talk about from that trove of documents and there will be additional stories coming soon. 

Outside of the Task Force, Andrea Campbell’s sudden announcement of a Mass and Cass action plan will continue to send ripples through the race to replace outgoing Mayor Marty Walsh.

I’ll be following this as I also prepare to publish a roundup of the addiction statements, opinions and actions of the dozen-or-so local movers and shakers eying the top job at city hall. 

This coming week, like this past week and the week before it, will involve a considerable amount of investigative work. 

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