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Boston's Drug Epidemic IS a Crisis Situation

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino says the drug problem in Boston isn't at a crisis level. But, it is.

Two weeks ago, South Boston resident Barbara Coyne was killed in her own home. Last fall, Barbara Tagen, also from Southie and also in her 60’s, was killed. Police believe both attacks were drug-related. The response to these tragic events has been an outpouring of expression from residents telling tales of a neighborhood reeling from drug addiction and violent crimes committed as a result.

Not everyone seems to be taking the problem as seriously, unfortunately.

Boston Herald reporter Ted Fitzgerald asked Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino last week if the situation was “worse than usual”.  The Mayor responded that he couldn’t speak to “hearsay” and that he hadn’t seen any “actual numbers”.

Is it at a crisis level?

“No, it’s not at a crisis level.”

“No, it isn’t a crisis situation.”

In the Mayor’s words:

“Well, we’re working, well, you know, huh, huh, you know we working, I think the cop - the police department did a great job bringing the guy, to arresting the individual, it took a week ... and we knew from the second day that we ... one individual … we had to put all the paperwork together, make sure we had the right person. I think what we’re doing is working with Senator Hart’s office to have a meeting Monday night; we’re sending some of our team out there to show you how aggressive we are on the issues of drugs and addiction and also prevention, but you know we have to … police and … outreach workers can’t do it alone, we need the community to help us, give us the information that’s out there to help us stop the ... if there’s a spread of drugs in the community … give us the information, tell us where they are and we’ll make the arrests.”

Problem solved!

Not a crisis?

I would never disagree with the Mayor (really, what would be the use?), but everyone but the Mayor says it is a “crisis situation”.

An “extremely serious” problem, said Senator Jack Hart, and Representative Nick Collins agreed, “I think we are at a crisis point.” Ex-Boston Mayor Ray Flynn told WBGH-TV’s Emily Rooney on Greater Boston that it’s at a “crisis” level, and he would know crisis!

And, it's not just in South Boston - not by a long shot. All the downtown Boston neighborhoods are suffering.

You see the effects of drug and alcohol addiction on the Boston Common, in Blackstone Square, in Copley and Andrew squares, at North Station, inside the Boston Public Library, in Downtown Crossing, at South Station, outside the Pine Street Inn and Saint Francis House, and at every Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, CVS, and 7-Eleven.

If what’s going on in Everett Square doesn’t make you a believer (“These folks are having sex on my property, defecating on my front porch, shooting up and using my outdoor spigots to fill up their buckets [to wash windows with]” says one neighbor), nothing will.

I’m no expert on drugs and crime, but from what I’ve read (and seen, first-hand), we are definitely facing a “crisis”. What would be a crisis in the mind of the Mayor – a third murder in South Boston? A stabbing on the Boston Common? A shooting on Chesterfield Street in Hyde Park?

Boston’s drug epidemic

The statistics on drug addiction in Boston and in Massachusetts are just astounding. Opioid-related deaths have skyrocketed over the past 20 years. In 2010, opiates-related overdoses exceeded motor vehicle deaths in the Commonwealth. There are as many as two deaths per day in Massachusetts from drug overdoses (708 deaths in 2008). (In comparison, this exceeds annual deaths due to HIV/AIDS in the Commonwealth in all but four of the past 29 years.)

Heroin has been the most-prevalent drug leading to treatment admissions (with alcohol running a close second), followed by non-heroin opiates, like oxycodone. Experts say that abusers start on drugs like OxyContin first, then trade "down" to heroin when they run out of money to buy their pills. This means that many of those entering treatment are suffering from long-term addictions.

Mr. Mayor, this is a crisis, code red.

Beyond the Mayor’s words

This column isn’t about the Mayor’s choice of words, though - of course not. He’s not a dumb or ignorant man; he’s done so much for this city and has made it the safe place it is today for hundreds of thousands of residents.

But unfortunately, for him and for us, he blew it when answering the Herald reporter’s question. He comes off as if he knows nothing about the issue. “The neighborhood has to tell us,” and, “I haven’t heard anything,” do not give us comfort that someone is in charge.

Southie reacts

Last night (April 30), there was a community meeting in South Boston where  Senator Hart, Representative Collins, City Councilors John Connolly and Bill Linehan, and other elected officials were present. Prominent was Boston police commissioner Ed Davis who gave an update on arrests in the neighborhood and promised more cops on the streets.

Dealing with the crimes is an integral part of the solution, but it doesn’t address the causes of the crimes - the actual disease. Barbara Coyne was killed in her own home and police arrested a neighbor who apparently knew her family. The family of the suspect in Barbara Tagen’s murder lived across the street. No number of police officers on bikes down Andrew Square is going to solve this problem!

The role of government

I know government can’t be responsible for fixing all of society’s problems, but our elected officials have “dropped the ball” on this - they’ve cut funding so that those who are “at risk” end up slipping further into addiction. Then they become a safety risk, to themselves and to others.

“The community has to tell us what’s going on … have [sic] to be our eyes and ears … we’re willing to work with them …,” says Mayor Menino.

The community is speaking up.

Is anyone listening?

Cybele May 02, 2012 at 01:19 PM
There are no consequences for or police attention to those who shoot up heroin in broad daylight in the Boston Common every day, but if your dog is off leash a SWAT team descends within seconds and fines are given. I walk through the common on my way to work twice a day and if the Mayor doesn't know what's going on he is blind and or he is more concerned with generating revenue from dog owners than fixing a problem that is so out of control, the police no longer even pay attention.
hopeandrecovery May 02, 2012 at 06:50 PM
There has been talk of South Boston needing a neighborhood task force to address the substance abuse problem in the neighborhood. In fact, the South Boston Hope & Recovery Coalition has been around since 2002. We are a coalition made up of public health professionals, treatment providers, law enforcement, youth services (and the youth they serve), faith based community members, and our friends and neighbors. We meet on a monthly basis and invite any interested parties to come to the table. Our next meeting is on May 16th at 6pm. Please email info@hopeandrecovery.org or visit our website www.hopeandrecovery.org for more information.
Brian May 04, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Cybele, the mayor should concentrate on generating revenue by ticketing dog owners fouling in public. That would generate millions.
Juice May 06, 2012 at 03:51 AM
The time to do something has long been overdue, the Mayor's office and the Boston Police both have turned a blind eye to this situation. The neighborhood needs to step up and start reporting these creeps that are poisoning this city. I have lost friends to this terrible disease. Something needs to be done NOW.
Leo Collins May 10, 2012 at 12:37 AM
As a person who grew up in South Boston and a victim of family addiction I can attest there is a MAJOR drug problem on the streets of Boston. It on every street corner in every Bar and in every neighborhood. If you don't see it you don't want to see it. Ever since the crack down and I hate to say it the Mob. The streets are like the wild west. I personally remember some of the infomous leg breakers would come around and smack any one around if they suspected and of them messing with drugs. Things have changed and the re alignment of citizens does not help at all. When the mayor decided to up root families from one area to another to clean up all he did was move the problems. Back to re drug issue one of my friends fathers once said to us "you kids have seen more death around you than I ever witnessed in Vietnam Nam." I have lost family friends and even closer friends to the problem and my solution was to leave my beloved Southie. I could not imagine raising my son in such a crime and drug infested town. If you don't see it your just ignoring it.
BH Resident June 19, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Yes I agree not enough is being done! Yes it is in crisis level! Why would a politician admit his city is going down the pan. There is a definite rise in drug addicted people in this city. Its clear as day. I see it daily in my professional career and just plain walking around in the city. Just today walking in the Public Garden were dirty needles on the path. I reported them but who knows if anything will be done. I have also complained about the increase in homeless people frequenting the park making it an unsavory place to go. A police officer said to me "where do you want them to go". Very poor indeed. Yes he was too busy standing on a corner collecting our hard earned money doing a traffic detail on his cell phone. There has been no noticed increase in police presence. The graffiti has increased dramatically as well. There is a drug war going on in this country and people vote to downgrade the charges for marijuana posession. What kind od message are we sending?! They are part of the large problem! There are also needle exchange programs. Lets give out needles, clean or not. Why are we putting more on the street? And for those of you who say the focus is on dog owners, no, the irresponsible dog owners are part of a different problem. You should be on the radar as well you litter the city.

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