By Beth Treffeisen
Special to the Gazette
The Boston City Council last month voted down an order that would place a two percent tax on certain alcoholic beverages to fund prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse.
Backed by City Councilors Frank Baker and Bill Linehan, both of who have seen substance abuse plague their neighborhoods, the measure did not prevail, losing by a 10 to 3 vote. Baker, Linehan, and City Council President Michelle Wu voted for approval.
Baker stated that the increase in tax would go towards creating recovery centers that would go for 30 days as opposed to the typical five to six days there are now.
“If anyone has ever had a heroin addict in their life, they know after five to six days coming out of detox on heroin, you’re sick in the head and you’re sick in the stomach, so the first thing you’re going to do is get high,” said Baker. “We need to come up with a real plan for detox beds at the entry level.”
Baker, whose district holds the Methadone Mile in the South End, said that it’s laughable that they re-named it recovery road. He stated that there needs to be a plan to better connect the police to real tools to be able to take people off the street and into a 30-day recovery facility.
Baker also noted that it appears that the City is taking on a lot of the recovery from the state.
Linehan said Boston has 10 percent of the problem and the city services 20 percent of the problem in the state.
“The reason why we’re talking about it now is because more people die of opioids now than from gun violence,” said Linehan. “That’s one piece of it and that’s why we’re all paying attention to it.”
Linehan said $20 million would be generated from this tax revenue that will go towards figuring out this issue in Boston. He also said that the Office of Recovery only receives about $400,000 a year.
“They’re lucky they can even put the lights on,” said Linehan. “They need more resources.”
Councilor Ayanna Pressley didn’t vote for the passage of the ordinance because it was written too vaguely and was not prescriptive enough.
“This is a statewide issue a national crisis affecting our families our economy and no one should be excluded from this work,” said Pressley. “I am not opposed to a tax but it should be the right one.”
Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George also didn’t vote to pass the ordinance because she believes this problem cannot be fought alone at the city level.
“Substance abuse is a crisis and it is affecting every community in this state and in every state in the United States,” said Essaibi-George. “Five people a day in our state are losing their life to this disease. This isn’t just a problem in the city of Boston and it’s going to take a coordinated effort to make the necessary progress.”
Essaibi-George pointed out that last week Gov. Charlie Baker cut $1.9 million for recovery services in the state, which is unacceptable. She said that ultimately the state legislation and not this body would have the final say of all of the language of this bill.
“I am not comfortable with that,” said Essaibi-George. “We have too many examples of returning tax dollars collected in the City of Boston not returning to the City and I do not want to risk that again.”
Councilor Tito Jackson, who also voted against the ordinance, said that we do need fund the Office of Recovery, but Boston currently takes on the burden of also caring for many people around the state.
“Boston, although we want it to be a destination and hub for a lot of things, we can’t have all of the services in our backyard,” said Jackson. “We can’t serve everyone; we don’t even have the capacity to serve even the folks who are from Boston currently.”
Jackson said the City Council is going to have to make some difficult choices in order to fund this going forward.
“If we don’t do something now, it’s only going to get worse,” said Linehan. “The holiday gift of sobriety to this city is what this bill will do for us and next Christmas will be a better Christmas.”
Although this ordinance did not pass, both Linehan and Baker are happy that they elevated the conversation and hope to continue taking this matter forward.