NEWSLETTER: Week of Jan. 25

Mass General Hospital is starting new research on medicinal applications of psychedelic drugs, Police Commissioner William Gross has suddenly retired, much more

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

It’s been another busy week for Boston as a whole, marked by still more tectonic shifts in the political makeup of city government. 

An unsteady race to replace Marty Walsh as Mayor of Boston when Walsh formally joins Joe Biden’s Presidential Cabinet this year is a big deal on its own. 

But, on top of that, this week also brought the sudden retirement of Police Commissioner William Gross. 

Mayors make addiction policy. The police department carries much of it out. Thus, as much as street level issues are always some of the most important in addiction conversations, local communities have had their own eyes turned towards downtown, recently. 

There’s so much to get to. 

Here’s the news...


Addiction policy plays prominent role in early Boston’s mayoral race

The field has shrunk slightly in recent days. But at least eight prominent Boston leaders are still either actively running for mayor or considering a bid. 

I dug into the records of those individuals, this week, to paint a sprawling picture of their similarities and differences in opinion on some of Boston’s most divisive addiction issues. 

There are people like State Rep. Jon Santiago and City Councilor Michelle Wu. Santiago recently teased the idea of a mayoral campaign in an email to supporters. Wu, meanwhile, has been actively campaigning for months. Both support controversial efforts to create a safe drug consumption site in Boston. 

Nick Collins, a State Senator, is also exploring his options. 

He’s got a deep record of drug policy actions that some experts see as having done more harm than good. 

On the streets, though, he’s known as a familiar and friendly face to some people experiencing homelessness and addiction.

Then there’s Andrea Campbell, who made news last week for announcing a comprehensive plan to address drug and homelessness issues in the Mass and Cass region of the South End. 

See that reporting and much more in my complete mayoral addiction policy position roundup...

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

MGH delves into psychedelics research

Psychiatrist Jerrold Rosenbaum’s comprehensive “Handbook on Psychiatric Drug Therapy,” published in 2010, does not mention the word “psychedelics” once over more than 300 pages. 

Yet Rosenbaum, himself, is now heading a new “Center for Neuroscience of Psychedelics” at Mass General Hospital in Boston.

Those two truths offer a stark model of the ways the medical community has slowly cut through early drug war era stigma to study how it can possibly use psychedelics as medicine.

In Boston, Rosenbaum and the rest of the MGH team have specifically partnered with an upstart German company to conduct research and hopefully produce new treatments for everything from anxiety, to depression to schizophrenia. 

See my reporting for more coverage of all this..

SNAPSHOTS: Other stories in the news this week

MGH study explores impact of terminology on addiction stigma

A new study out of Mass General Hospital puts empirical data behind the complicated and at 

times frustrating uncertainty of how we in society should talk about addiction. 

Published in the journal Addiction by lead researcher John Kelly and a team of colleagues, this work concludes that there is no singular best way to reference addiction and minimize stigma while doing so. 

Instead, there are some sociology backed best practices for journalists, doctors and members of the general public to keep in mind. 

"If you want to decrease stigmatizing blame, use of more medical terminology [like ‘substance use disorder’] may be optimal,” Kelly said in a press release announcing this study. “If you want to increase confidence that the person can recover and is not dangerous, use of non-medical terminology [like ‘drug problem’] may be best."

See the study for more on these findings and the unique way researchers actually gathered their data...

Gross retires, Walsh appoints White as police commissioner

Former Boston Police commissioner William Gross has retired, capping a short stint as Boston’s top cop that was, at times, rife with controversial responses to addiction and drug use. 

Across just over two years, Gross caught flack for his department’s controversial Operation Clean Sweep. Activists said police action was cruel and overreactive. The ACLU even sued police over allegedly unconstitutional law enforcement tactics during that action. 

Police stepped back. They still patrol the Mass and Cass area where Clean Sweep took place. But, according to sources speaking with Substantive, they rarely get out of their cars to interact with people often openly using and dealing drugs. 

That now has some residents frustrated as those drug and homelessness issues spiral. 

Retired and currently sitting out city politics, Gross leaves the police in the hands of new Commissioner Dennis White. 

Learn more about all this via my reporting

Needle buyback program aims to reduce discarded needle problems at Mass and Cass

As rampant addiction problems leave discarded drug needles throughout the Mass and Cass region of Boston, a popular community effort is providing some with an extra incentive to clean up their streets. 

A group known as Addiction Disposal Resources is now running a pilot needle by-back program in the South End. 

They’re open from 5am to 7am, giving people who drop off needles 20 cents per needle for a maximum daily payout of $10. 

“I’m delighted to say this idea we’ve talked about for so long has been picked up,” South End community organizer Steve Fox said in a recent meeting of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association.

Indeed, he and others have long pushed for this kind of buy-back program as a way to get needles off the street and put cash in the pockets of people often battling extreme poverty on the streets of Boston. 

This effort isn’t without its critics, though. 

“I would like to know how this fixes anything on the Mile,” one Facebook user wrote, referencing the Mass and Cass region’s “Methadone Mile” nickname while reacting to a recent article from the Boston Sun on by-back efforts. 

Others are concerned about the sustainability of this program, which is funded through private donors. They’re also worried these financial incentives will actually draw more people experiencing homelessness to the already overburdened Mass and Cass region in search of a few extra dollars per day.

Learn more about all this via that aforementioned reporting by the Boston Sun


The bulk of this week’s reporting work focused on the Boston mayoral race. 

There were dozens of articles, speeches, statements and legal documents to comb through. 

With a profile of eight declared and rumored candidates now complete, though, I’m turning my attention to any number of other topics. 

This week’s new partnership between Mass General Hospital and Atai Life Sciences combined with last month’s vote by the Somerville City Council to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms makes for an emerging trend of warming local attitudes towards psychedelics as a whole. 

How will this develop in the coming weeks and months? 

Likewise, I’m still pushing the Suffolk County DA’s office for more transparency on a potentially problematic overdose response in Brighton back in December involving the Boston Police. 

Then, of course, we all will still be paying attention to the mayoral race as any number of local leaders may actually confirm their candidacies in the coming weeks.  

In the meantime, please do consider supporting me on Patreon. 


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