Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Boston’s Fight Against the Opioid Epidemic

This Monday, Policy Director for the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services Brendan Little gave a talk at BC addressing the ongoing opioid crisis affecting not only Boston, but the entire country.

The Office of Recovery Service (ORS), created by Mayor Martin J. Walsh in 2015, focuses on utilizing a collaborative approach tailored to fit the specific needs of people and communities recovering from substance abuse problems.

Mr. Little, who was exposed first hand to the devastation of substance abuse by his family as a child, helps oversee the office. Solely dedicated to helping individuals recover from substance addictions, the office is the first and only of its kind in the country.

Nationwide drug overdoses were responsible for 72,000 deaths in 2017. Most of these deaths were attributed to opioids—marking a 37% increase in opioid deaths from 2015. Drug overdoses have become, and are expected to remain, the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50.

Little noted that although opioid abuse has been an issue for years, it has not been treated as a public health issue until recently, and had previously been treated solely as a criminal issue.

Among the initiatives run by the ORS is a partnership with 311 hotline to field calls related to substance use, and these calls go on to connect callers with the PAATHS program. The PAATHS program, which stands for Providing Access to Addictions Treatment, Hope, and Support, facilitates access to care for substance users.

PAATHS exists for people who know they need help, but who are not sure where to go. PAATHS assess the situation and then finds and contacts the services that people need.

Additionally, the City of Boston conducts a number of harm reduction operations which seeks to help individuals struggling with addiction even if they are not yet ready to seek treatment. One example is the needle exchange program, which provides people with a safe way to dispose and replace used syringes in order to stem the transmission of HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases spread by reusing contaminated needles.

Beyond these efforts to treat addiction and mitigate its damage, the city also works to aid people in prison and provide stability to the lives of recovering individuals who are trying to reintegrate into society.

One example is the PAIR initiative, a partnership with Warren and Doris Buffett’s Letters Foundation, which offers grants and other forms of support for individuals in the incipient stages of recovery. PAIR helps these people find housing, jobs, and education.

T strength of this program is in its flexibility. The grant averages around $2,500 per person and does not have to be used on specific expenses. This gives recipients the ability to use their own discretion to address the needs they see in their lives.

In addition to establishing these programs, the City of Boston has also taken legal action against negligent actors within the opioid industry responsible for contributing to the dramatic increase in opioid addiction.

The city sued 13 manufacturers, 4 distributors, and one “pill mill” doctor last week alone. Over the past 4 years, the city has spent over $64 million in such litigation, arguing that these negligent actors should be held liable for their misleading marketing practices and over-prescription of heavily addictive painkillers.

In order to spread awareness, the ORS is also promoting two books that deal with the opioid crisis, Dreamland by Sam Quinones and If You Love Me by Maureen Cavanagh, as part of a recovery themed book club. The authors of the two books will appear at a discussion led by Mayor Walsh at Old South Church on September 26th, from 6-7:30 PM.

Looking beyond Boston, the office has also created a starter kit that other cities can use as a reference guide for launching their own recovery programs.

Boston is considered a national leader in recovery efforts and is seen as a model for other cities, with Mayor Walsh serving as  chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Task Force on Substance Abuse, Prevention and Recovery Services.

When asked what message he would single out for BC students, Little emphasized that while substance abuse may seem like a very distant issue without relevance to their everyday lives, it is a very real and destructive problem that someone in their midst can be suffering from unnoticed.

One step that BC students can take to help fight this epidemic is to learn how to administer naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. The City of Boston provides free naloxone training on the first Monday and third Tuesday of every month..

Little stressed that if anyone is struggling with substance use or knows of someone who is, they should consult the Office of Recovery Services, or email him directly at




Office of Recovery Services:

Recovery Month Book Club:

Naloxone Training:

Brendan Little: