NEWSLETTER: Week of Nov. 30

New reporting shows how bad data organization may be slowing the response to the local meth crisis, a new facet of the Purdue Pharma scandal is hitting the Boston Public Schools, much more

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

Many following politics in Boston this week saw stunning news hit newspapers, Monday, as a long-awaited police reform bill emerged from closed door negotiations to then pass by slim margins in both houses of the state legislature. 

Still more across Massachusetts heard about COVID-19 as the state set a new record for single day infections. There’s hope on the horizon in a few promising vaccines. But things remain bleak.

For a smaller group keeping an eye on addiction in this city, there were still more developments. Some were good. Some were bad. Most related, as many things do these days, to those broad fact patterns that are police controversy and the coronavirus. 

After an up and down week punctuated on my end by the publication of two different investigative projects on e-cigarettes and meth use respectively, I’m here with a recap of it all.

Let’s get to the news...


Incomplete data clouds understanding of growing meth crisis

Methamphetamine is more popular in Boston now than it was even five years ago -- observers on the street know that at least qualitatively -- but nobody seems to know, quantitatively, what this actually looks like. 

That’s because the CDC and other agencies leave meth lumped in with other stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin in survey data reports, clouding common understanding and hamstringing scholarly efforts to study meth addiction. 

Recent scientific output, like a Boston Medical Center study out late last month, has documented statistical increases in stimulant use. Experts can hypothesize that this corresponds to reported spikes in meth prevalence. But they can’t know for sure without delineated data.

That, in turn, has real world impacts, hurting advocates who try to win state and federal funding for addiction prevention programs.

In short, without hard data and/or ample study, it’s an uphill battle towards the money that helps bring about structural and systemic change. 

Read my full report and see exclusive comments from Jamie Lim, one of the authors of that aforementioned BMC study…

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

New Purdue Pharma revelations rattle Boston

A trove of newly available emails now shows representatives of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company once suggested Purdue Pharma offer rebates to pharmacies of patients who fatally overdosed on the opioid Oxycontin.

Reported this week in the New York Times, these revelations come as the latest in a line of horrific news stories connected to Purdue and it’s now infamous marketing of deadly opioids throughout the modern drug crisis. 

The emails explain how, in 2017, McKinsey employees working with Purdue floated the idea of using financial incentives to shore up then shaky sales of Purdue’s controversial top product. In turn, they then detail how a Massachusetts lawsuit against Purdue triggered suggestions to purge all McKinsey records documenting connections to these shady practices. 

This news has enraged many here in Boston, be them in elite political circles, on the streets, or elsewhere in between. 

US Rep. Kathrine Clark, whose district includes parts of Cambridge, had already led recent condemnations of both Purdue and a perceived “sweetheart deal” its lawyers cut with the federal government to wrap up a massive criminal case last month.

Attorney General Maura Healy has joined in voicing her frustration over Purdue in recent weeks. 

Online commenters, many of whom live in the Mass and Cass area of the South End and Roxbury, have also spoken out through various Facebook groups and message boards. 

All this bears even more connection to Boston, then, through the schools. The Boston district has, on multiple occasions, signed high value contracts with McKinsey, including a more than $800,000 gig just this year to help with coronavirus reopening planning. 

As institutions across the country have quickly cut ties to Purdue and other groups caught in its spiraling scandal, some now say they have their eyes on the public schools to see if they revisit their relationship with McKinsey. 

“[The city] should not be supporting an organization that contributed to the overdose deaths of so many,” one local Facebook user commented, Monday. 

By Monday night, a grassroots letter writing campaign had coalesced, with the backing of the South End Roxbury Community Partnership advocacy group, guided by that initial reaction. 

Read the initial New York Times report on this McKinsey news…

And check out further writing from the Bay State Banner detailing the latest round of consulting contracts doled out to McKinsey by the Boston Public Schools…

SNAPSHOTS: Other stories in the news this week

Men once arrested on marijuana charges now plan to open legal dispensary

Reporting this week from the Boston Globe spotlights two men now on track to open Hyde Park’s first marijuana store, more than four years after the state legalized the drug and just over 10 years after one of the entrepreneurs, Sean Berte, was arrested for growing cannabis illegally. 

The story of Berte and his business partner, Armani White, fascinatingly involves a progressive aspect of Boston marijuana law that requires permitting agencies dole out at least half of their marijuana licenses to “equity applicants” impacted, in one way or another, by drug war era policies. 

Read the full Boston Globe article

Campaign finance review spotlights thousands in donations from Juul Labs employees to Mass. elected officials

As Massachusetts leaders have blasted e-cigarette maker Juul for allegedly marketing nicotine products to children, employees of the company still donated over $12,000 to this state’s congressional delegation, a Substantive review of campaign finance records found, this week. 

These aren’t donations directly from Juul. They’re from individuals who simply happen to work for the company. Likewise, this trend isn’t necessarily unheard of as broader FCC data shows that 10 of the top 25 individuals or groups receiving individual donations from Juul employees aligned with the Democratic Party which, as a whole, has favored critiques of risky e-cigarette marketing in recent years. 

Still, such a trend is noteworthy. Read my full report for more…

Giving Tuesday brings in donations for groups fighting addiction in Boston

Giving Tuesday, the informal, pro-charity holiday following the shopping days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday prompted pledge drives and promotional content from numerous local agencies and nonprofits fighting addiction and its often cooccurring illnesses, this week.

The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program was among that list of groups. Along the way, they released a handful of short videos introducing key staff, including one spotlighting Hepatitis-C expert Maggie Beiser. 

See that video...

What’s next?

A week ago, I talked about looking further into the complicated relationship between the Boston City Council and advocates in the South End and Roxbury who are frustrated about open drug use, discarded needles and more in their neighborhoods. 

This week, I had a fascinating conversation with one prominent advocate on just that topic. His insights and comments will figure in prominently to an article I plan to publish in the coming days. 

Likewise, I also have had some great conversations with key movers and shakers in the ongoing debate about safe consumption sites in Boston and across Massachusetts. 

Keep an eye out for stories on that topic and more.

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