Methadone deliveries, needle distribution eyed for long term changes to Boston neighborhood

Community leaders optimistic about methadone home delivery programs

BOSTON — Community leaders in the Mass & Cass corridor of Boston are pointing to at least one positive change that’s happened during the pandemic - methadone home delivery programs.

A federal rule that’s been in place for more than a half-century required methadone be picked up in person at stand-alone clinics.

The global pandemic has forced federal authorities to temporarily lift that requirement.

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There’s now a push among local and state officials in Massachusetts to make that a permanent fixture.

“If this area is experiencing anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 people a day that need to come in here for methadone, maybe three quarters or more of those people wouldn’t need to come here,” said Boston District 3 City Councilor Frank Baker.

Boston City Councilor Frank Baker, who’s on the Mass & Cass Task force, believes it’s a long term change that could be one piece of the puzzle.

There are less than 50 methadone clinics in the state of Massachusetts.

Six of those are located in the city of Boston.

“It’s almost like their morning shake or their morning coffee. It’s what they need to stay level but having them drive from a surrounding community to Mass & Cass isn’t necessary,” said Baker.

Methadone, a highly regulated medication for opioid addiction, has to be taken daily. Otherwise, patients risk a painful withdrawal.

Neighbors who live in the community that’s commonly referred to by the negative nickname “Methadone Mile” are skeptical that methadone deliveries will result in any noticeable changes.

“Look at the percentage of people who go to those methadone clinics that don’t have permanent addresses,” said South End resident Elizabeth Schwartz. “If these people don’t have addresses where methadone can be delivered than what good is that kind of change?”

Elizabeth Schwartz put her family’s Mass Ave condo on the market two months ago and is determined to leave when the right offer comes her way.

She said the primary factor in her decision is her 18-month-old son’s safety.

“As far as the recent attention we’ve been getting from elected officials, I’m all for it,” said Schwartz. “I hope for this community and for the city of Boston that things improve, but I’m not banking on that happening in a reasonable timeframe that affects me.”

South End and Roxbury neighbors are preparing for their seventh weekly demonstration on Thursday night to demand changes to the area.

Some residents told Boston 25 News that the recent closure of the comfort station on Mass Ave is offering an illusion that things are getting better.

The temporary comfort station at 794 Mass Ave was closed last month due to a planned construction and renovation project at the Woods Mullen Shelter.

People who had been congregating at that location are now being directed to the adjacent comfort station less than a mile away on Atkinson Street in Roxbury.

“It’s just a reshuffling. I don’t think that’s a win because we’re not really addressing the underlying issues,” said Schwartz.

City and state officials have been participating with residents in virtual meetings over the last week to address imminent concerns.

This week, the Mass & Cass Task Force also met with federal, state and local substance use and mental health agency representatives to discuss potential solutions.

That conversation included the topic of methadone home deliveries. According to the Mass & Cass Task Force, 60 percent of methadone clinic patients are participating in temporary authorization for home delivery on a 28 day cycle.

Next week the Task Force is set to address initiatives to decentralize the AHOPE needle exchange on Albany Street.

People from across the Boston area currently travel to that program as a primary source for sharps and clean needle supplies.

Community leaders are discussing a proposal to turn that program into a distribution center that would provide supplies to health centers across Boston.

South End community forum moderator Steve Fox told Boston 25 News reporter Drew Karedes that the goal is to make needle exchanges neighborhood based as part of overall harm reduction strategies at community health centers.