Millions invested in mayor’s plan to combat youth substance use

Mayor Walsh recently released a five year plan to prevent and address youth substance use in Boston.

The plan is the result of a comprehensive assessment of youth substance use and current prevention efforts in Boston. The Youth Substance Use Prevention Strategic Plan will guide the work of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services (ORS). The plan was developed in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and other community partners, and with support from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation (BCBSMAF). MGH will invest $1.3 million over five years to support implementation of the plan.

The plan has an emphasis on promoting racial, ethnic, and economic equity. 86 percent of all Boston Public School students identify as Black, Hispanic/Latino, or Asian, populations to which youth substance prevention resources are not widely accessible. The plan aims to address the gap in resources.

“This plan takes us in a new direction of being intentional about equity and making sure that we are supporting all of our youth with the resources they need to overcome substance use disorder,” said Mayor Walsh. “My hope is that this is a historical turning point in the way we deliver services to ensure we approach recovery and prevention in its full context. I thank Mass General and Blue Cross for partnering with us on this important initiative, and for sharing in our commitment to supporting Boston’s youth.”

The plans draws on some conclusions based on the City’s research, funded by a $50,000 grant in 2016 and composed of consultants including local youth, substance use experts, and key community stakeholders. The City engaged youth, parents, medical providers, faith-based leaders, schools, and youth organizations to better understand youth substance patterns in Boston.

Based on this research, it was noted that the existing prevention system lacks a coordinated effort with consistent messaging, that Boston youth are using a range of substances like marijuana and alcohol in much greater frequency than prescription opioids, and that substance use is significantly higher among students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

“This Strategic Plan recommends an innovative approach to prevention that addresses the untreated trauma that often underlies youth substance use,” said Marty Martinez, Chief of Health and Human Services. “”People with substance use disorders have not always been met with the support and resources that they deserve. Our prevention strategy is to meet our young people where they’re at and ensure that community resources are available, accessible, and attainable.”

“The epidemic of addiction is not new in Boston,” said Jennifer Tracey, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services. “People with substance use disorders have not always been met with the support and resources that they deserve. Often, young people who are engaged in risky behaviors get caught up in the criminal justice system before being exposed to adequate prevention or early intervention services. This Strategic Plan aims to enhance Boston’s substance use prevention efforts and improve access to positive interventions by meeting young people where they’re at.”

The funds for this plan will be allocated based on a determination of needs process. Some recommendations that the report makes includes improving cross-sector coordination and expanding leadership to establish a coordinated prevention strategy; expanding collection of data to better assess neighborhood-level trends in youth substance use, increasing the capacity of Boston’s youth-serving agencies to support prevention efforts, using consistent prevention-related messaging across youth-serving agencies; building and improving pathways to prevention, intervention, and

recovery supports for youth in all neighborhoods; and engaging academic institutions, foundations, and public and private sectors to create a more robust and responsive approach to prevention.

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