Reporter’s Notebook: Governor hopeful Avellone focusing on drug-abuse crisis

Joe Avellone, a former healthcare executive and one of the five Democrats running for governor, toured the Dimock Community Health Center in Roxbury on Wednesday and highlighted his ideas on how to slow the state’s mounting substance abuse crisis.

Avellone has said he would set up an Office of Recovery within the Health and Human Services secretariat if he becomes governor. Cases currently routed through the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse would be sent to that office instead, he said.

“It’s clear to me drug addiction is a huge problem for many families,” he said. “I think the state has to do something really different.”

Avellone pointed to reports of 185 heroin overdose deaths in a four-month period in Massachusetts. “We know that’s only a partial number,” since it doesn’t include major cities like Boston, Worcester and Springfield, he said in a phone interview before visiting the Dimock Center. “People can’t find the way into treatment when they need it,” he said.

He praised the center, which has a substance abuse treatment model, includes inpatient and outpatient services, and handles 22,000 annual client visits. The center has 30 beds in its detox unit for alcohol and opiate treatment, according to its website. Avellone would look to extend the referral network for recovery services and expand a popular drug court program that is available in Dorchester District Court.

A former pharmaceutical executive, Avellone also proposes to work with other governors in New England to push the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies to develop “safe drugs” that can’t be “easily abused.” He said he would also use the bully pulpit that comes with the Corner Office in talking about substance abuse. “The governor has a strong role to play in taking the stigma out of addiction so people are much more open to treatment,” he said.

A former Wellesley selectman, Avellone remains confident about his chances of making it onto the Democratic ballot. Gubernatorial candidates must snag at least 15 percent of delegates at the Democratic convention in June to qualify for the September ballot.

The four other Democrats running are State Treasurer Steve Grossman, Attorney General Martha Coakley, former homeland security official Juliette Kayyem, and former Obama administration official Don Berwick. The winner is expected to face likely Republican nominee Charlie Baker and a pair of independent candidates.

Avellone, who has been making a bid for moderate Democrats as his rivals tack to the left, said many delegates remain undecided. “Nobody has a complete head count; we’re well on our way to getting there.” He said he plans to keep plugging away. “This race is not over, it’s just really starting. We’ve run the first lap.”

All the camps have claimed to have made the ballot, though most agree that Grossman has the most committed delegates so far. Coakley’s gubernatorial campaign flexed a little bit of organization muscle during Tuesday’s special primary election to replace Marty Walsh in the House. At Florian Hall and Cristo Rey High School, two big polling locations in Dorchester, Coakley signs were prominently placed outside as super-voters headed to the polls to pick a Walsh successor. Early on Tuesday morning, no other gubernatorial candidate had signs up at Cristo Rey.

Parent, public input sought on new school superintendent pick

Dorchester parents will get to weigh in on what they want in the next school superintendent at two meetings this month. Mayor Marty Walsh has tapped a search committee to help him find a permanent superintendent while the school department’s budget chief, John McDonough, serves as the interim. Walsh has asked for an aggressive search timeline, expressing hope that a new superintendent can be in place for the new school year.

School officials are still working on a job description. “These public hearings will allow for a wide range of input from the public at-large and from partners and groups that know our district well,” Michael O’Neill, chair of the School Committee, said in a statement. “The School Committee saw great public input during last year’s external advisory committee work on student assignment as well as the Committee’s work on strategic planning, so we know that thoughtful and deliberate feedback will be gained by holding these hearings.”

The Dorchester hearings are set for March 19 at the Harbor Middle School in Fields Corner and March 25 at the Dever-McCormack K-8 School in Columbia Point.

The other hearings are on March 11 at WGBH in Brighton; March 20 at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury; March 27 at East Boston High School; and March 31 at the Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale. All hearings start at 6 p.m. and end at 8 p.m.

The superintendent search committee plans to discuss picking a search firm on March 10, at 5:30 p.m., at the Boston Public Schools’ headquarters at 26 Court St.

Five candidates make the ballot in Fifth Suffolk

Five Democrats will be on the ballot in the race to succeed former state Rep. Carlos Henriquez, state officials said last week. They include Evandro Carvalho, an attorney; Karen Charles, chief of staff at the state’s Department of Telecommunications; Jennifer Johnson, a local activist; Barry Lawton, who has run for this seat previously; and perennial candidate Roy Owens. No Republicans signed up for the race.

Althea Garrison, a frequent candidate for public office who once held the seat for two years in the 1990s, did not make the ballot despite gathering signatures because she did not switch parties in time. She did not respond to a voice-mail left on Wednesday morning inquiring about her next steps.

Garrison has frequently run write-in campaigns when she has not made it past a primary.

The winner of the April 1 primary will be the likely victor of the April 29 general election. The special election was set in motion after Henriquez was ousted by House members last month. A jury convicted him of assault and battery on a young woman, while Henriquez has maintained his innocence and interest in regaining the House seat.

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