According to the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) and Boston Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Narcan was administered in Boston 1,307 times between January and August 2018. That averages over five times a day, once about every 4.5 hours. The opioid epidemic is still raging despite efforts to combat it, and South Boston is one neighborhood that’s been hit hard.
A longtime resident is now helping Southie fight the crisis. Billy Stoddard, who’s been sober since 2003, just became an outreach coordinator for American Addiction Centers (AAC) in July and is a new resource for anyone suffering substance abuse issues.
There are 2,000 overdose deaths on average every year in Massachusetts. Partially because of the increase in Narcan use, the numbers actually decreased slightly at the end of 2017 and through June 2018. But deaths only tell a portion of the story.
In his first few weeks in office, Mayor Marty Walsh mandated that Narcan be carried in every public safety vehicle in the city, and the state has increased its availability. In some cases, providing the drug regularly slows but doesn’t halt the progression of the disease: one out of every 10 people who are given Narcan in Massachusetts die within the year.
Stoddard’s new job is to help residents find treatment that works and navigate the complexity of recovery options. AAC operates nationwide with 1,500 beds among 13 treatment centers; including outpatient and counseling centers they have close to 25 facilities. They recently just acquired Adcare, with nine facilities in New England including Worcester, MA, and South Kingstown, RI.
With their recent entry into the Northeast market, Stoddard provides insight about the state’s addiction resources. He specializes in private/commercial insurance but can help put people in touch with resources even without it.
“We can get someone with private insurance placed immediately,” he says. “I’ll get a referral, talk to the individual and their family, see which of our facilities is best suited for that individual, then have our inside team do an assessment. But, since I’m in recovery, I try to help all individuals who ask for help. If you need my help, reach out. Just pick up the phone.”
Genevieve Nave, LMHC, practices in South Boston. She specializes in treating teens and young adults with substance use issues, roughly 70% of her clients. “There has been an opioid problem in South Boston long before this most recently publicized national epidemic,” she says.
“I don’t see it as a new problem hitting Southie hard, but rather an increased awareness from the greater community.”
Stoddard remembers similarly; he started drinking at 14 in the 1990s and quickly escalated to hard drugs. He started his recovery process at 18 and finally got sober at 23. “Everybody did it around here,” he says. “Alcohol is just a symptom. It’s more of a physical, mental, and emotional disease. Treatment can be the first step in addressing these underlying issues.”
What’s different now, though, is the strength of the drugs and their impact. A recent state report shows that illegal forms of the powerful drug fentanyl are now present in almost 90% of overdose deaths in Massachusetts, in cocaine as well as heroin. There’s also been an influx of new users. In the last 18 months, nearly two-thirds of the overdose deaths were among people aged 25 to 44.
With this in mind, the city is using a multifaceted and aggressive approach that focuses on treatment and recovery. Walsh has laid out a five-year strategic plan targeted to substance use prevention among youths. Boston’s programming includes a 24-hour recovery services hotline, engagement center for those suffering addiction and homelessness, post-overdose home visit team, street engagement team, and multiple education and treatment programs.
As September is National Recovery Month, there are events all around Boston raising awareness and celebrating recovery, including an interactive, educational Mayor’s Recovery Month Book Club.
A spokesperson for EMS and BPHC says, “Collaborative efforts are ongoing with neighborhood associations, treatment providers, and other partners, including but not limited to the Joseph “Dodo” Nee South Boston Collaborative Center and South Boston Substance Use Prevention Coalition, part of the South Boston Collaborative Advisory Network, to provide critical addictions and recovery services to those in need.”
These efforts join several long-standing resources. The South Boston Collaborative works with the South Boston Drug Court. The South Boston Hope and Recovery Coalition collaborates with clergy and legal supports to make resources available. The Gavin Foundation, a comprehensive system of adult, youth and community substance use education, prevention and treatment programs, gives support services and hosts events. There are also local sober living homes.
As a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Stoddard helped others unofficially for years. In 2016, he completed the Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) certificate course as a part of the Addictions Counselor Education Program at UMass Boston.
“I’m just trying to do for others what people did for me when I was getting sober; there’s many different resources to help.” he says. “One of the ways to pay it back is to be there for other people. I’m willing to do whatever helps—and I never force anything.”
Anyone seeking assistance can reach Stoddard through AAC, firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 418-9911, and he can help direct anyone who needs it to the resources available. Nave can be found on Psychology Today or at email@example.com.