Boston’s Opioid Epidemic Has a Face on Methadone Mile
At the edge of Boston’s South End, Roxbury, and Dorchester neighborhoods lies an area popularly known as Methadone Mile, both a refuge and haven for opioid addicts, which according to Mayor Marty Walsh has been existent for more than a decade.
In the shadows of Boston Medical Center, at the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue, drug deals are a prevalent sight. Up and down Melnea Cass, countless people panhandle drivers for change as they saunter between cars. Needles line the streets. Addicts cook heroin and shoot up in plain sight. They do not even try to hide it.
This strip of Boston is known as Methadone Mile. It is the location of various drug treatment centers, including methadone clinics, from which the area derives its name, halfway houses, and two homeless shelters that attract opioid addicts from all throughout the city and suburbs.
According to data collected by the City of Boston, Methadone Mile is where the most discarded drug- needle pickup service requests are made by far. Below is an image of a heat map of this data.
Addicts are drawn to Methadone Mile because of the abundance of services offered within a small radius of the city. As reported by the Boston Globe, “People who live in one of the shelters can make it to therapy groups, see their primary care doctors at BMC, and visit a recovery center without commuting all over the city.” It’s incredibly convenient.
Many take offense to the label given to the area, especially the counselors and volunteers working with addicts to try and curb the epidemic. They wish it were called “Recovery Road” instead. According to the Boston Globe’s feature on the issue, “It stigmatizes the people whose pain and suffering is very public and mocks their efforts to get clean.”
Boston is actually at the forefront of providing care to opioid addicts in comparison to other cities throughout the country. $1.6 million was allocated in 2016 for counselors according to an interview with Mayor Marty Walsh by WBUR. The city has also taken steps to combat the epidemic with their 311 phone line, a homelessness task force, and the first municipal office of recovery service in the country. “We have a crisis of heroin in our city,” Mayor Marty Walsh states in the WBUR interview. “It’s a difficult issue to address. We also need some willingness on behalf of the people addicted to be willing to go into treatment.”
The city has tried to focus more on treatment centers rather than arrests, although according to BPD, they have arrested more than 200 people within a quarter-mile of the Melnea Cass Boulevard and Mass. Ave. intersection within a nine-month period. Not only are there methadone clinics, where a person can receive medication-therapy that suppresses drug withdrawal symptoms for a day, but there are also contested clinics such as SPOT where a person can use drugs under the supervision of nurses and healthcare professionals. The purpose of these clinics are not only to be there for someone who may overdose, but to build a trust with people that can one day lead them to therapy and recovery.
The real question is, is Boston doing enough to fight this national epidemic at home? Methadone Mile is minutes down the road from Northeastern University and directly next to Boston University’s Medical School housing. What more could these wealthy universities be doing for the people of their community that are the most in need of help? Another question to consider is whether having all of these treatment clinics in the same vicinity is smart urban planning. Is the city deterring or encouraging addictive behaviors by clustering drug users all in the same place?
A former addict of Methadone Mile, Vinny Pardini told WBUR, “This drug doesn’t care how old you are or what color you are, it just wants you dead. Heroin wants you dead.” People vacate this space because of the convenience of shelters, clinics–and drug dealers–all operating in one pocket of the city. It is a struggle even for someone who has overcome addiction to simply walk in this part of the city. Boston has taken steps to alleviate this horrifying epidemic, but there is still a lot of work to be done to fully turn Methadone Mile into Recovery Road.
The Boston Globe. “Life and Loss on Methadone Mile.” bostonglobe.com. January 23, 2017.
The Boston Globe. “Grim maps show how discarded needles litter Methadone Mile.” bostonglobe.com. January 23, 2017.
City of Boston. “Needle Pickup Service Requests.”
data.cityofboston.gov/City-Services/Needle-Pickup-Service-Requests/re9v-x52u.. January 23, 2017.
WBUR. “State’s Opioid Epidemic Is Vividly Seen On Boston’s ‘Methadone Mile.” January 23, 2017.
Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program. “SPOT.” https://www.bhchp.org/spot. January 23, 2017.
BostonPublicHealth Youtube Channel. “311 for Recovery Services.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V84Nj9i7m0E&feature=youtu.be. January 24, 2017.