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In maiden speech, Baker calls for 24-hour substance abuse helpline

City Councillor Frank Baker, in a maiden speech to his colleagues, on Wednesday called for a 24-hour substance abuse help line, saying the city and the state do not have a round-the-clock service.

Substance abuse help lines do exist at the city and state level, but they do not function 24 hours a day, according to Baker. "We need to ask ourselves why we don’t have a helpline in the City of Boston, why the services provided are not available 24 hours a day, and what we can do to make this invaluable resource accessible to our residents," Baker said.

Baker said the issue is personal for him, having lost a 25-year-old niece to heroin last year and a brother to drug overdose 19 years ago. The latter sent him into a negative spiral, which came up during the 2011 campaign.

Baker's maiden speech, as prepared for delivery, is available after the jump.

Thank you Mr. President.

I rise today to put forth an Order for a Hearing regarding a 24-Hour Substance Abuse Helpline in the City of Boston.

There is a serious substance abuse problem in the City of Boston and sadly addiction rates throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are on the rise.

According to the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, in 2010 there were 106,301 admissions to substance abuse treatment programs statewide and 17,775 of these state-wide admissions reported being from the City of Boston. Of the total admissions in Boston, 71.1 per 1,000 reported residing in Dorchester. While these statistics are staggering, it is important to recognize that these numbers do not reflect the overall impact substance abuse has on the city and its residents, as reporting drug related crime as well as drug use, abuse and addiction is subjective and therefore these figures are likely much higher.

In a recent BPHC poll, 49 percent of residents in my district reported drug use as a major problem in their neighborhood. While knocking on doors and meeting voters across District 3 this summer, this overarching theme was very much confirmed. Individuals of all ages and ethnic backgrounds expressed their ongoing concerns regarding the issue of drugs and alcohol in our neighborhoods. Many asked me if I thought substance abuse was a concern in the city and how I was going to deal with the matter if elected. As the new City Councilor of Dorchester, I not only feel a responsibility to my constituents to investigate this issue, I have a responsibility to myself and my family as well.

Unfortunately, this matter is all too real for me and my family. A little over a year ago I lost my 25-year-old niece to heroin and 19 years ago this week my brother passed away due to a drug overdose. Having lived in this city all my life and having suffered through these unimaginable tragedies, I still cannot stand before you today and tell you what options are available to the citizens of Boston struggling with addiction and where their families can turn to access help for their loved ones addicted to drugs and alcohol. This leads me to believe that there is a disconnect somewhere and we need to work together to do better job not only in educating our constituents about the dangers of drugs, but also what to do if a loved one falls victim to drugs. One way of accomplishing this is through a 24-Hour Substance Abuse Helpline.

Currently, both the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts do not provide their residents dealing with drug and alcohol addiction and/or their families and friends with a 24-hour Substance Abuse Helpline. In fact, after much research, it was difficult to even find a phone number to call in order to obtain help for substance abuse addiction services. Presently, if you require assistance, you need to call the Boston Public Health Commission’s Bureau of Addictions Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Support Services. However, they are only available Monday through Thursday from 7:00am – 3:00pm. After 3:00pm an answering machine directs you to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ “24-Hour Helpline”. However, this “24-Hour Helpline” actually closes at 11:00pm. We need to ask ourselves why we don’t have a Helpline in the City of Boston, why the services provided are not available 24-Hours a day, and what we can do to make this invaluable resource accessible to our residents.

As many of you may know, the prognosis for substance abuse recovery is further improved by being able to easily access community-based social supports. By expanding access to substance abuse support, the residents of Boston dealing with issues surrounding substance abuse will be better equipped to understand their options, help themselves or those in need gain access to programs, and hopefully reduce the number of drug overdoses in the City of Boston.

Mr. President, I ask that the appropriate committee of the Boston City Council conduct a hearing to review the effectiveness of the current programs administered through the Boston Public Health Commission, discuss the possibility of providing the residents of Boston with a 24-Hour Helpline and study the current substance abuse resources available in an effort to improve outreach and support. If we can save just one life by providing this invaluable resource to our constituents, this program will be a success.

I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this worthwhile initiative.

Thank you.


Full Stenographic Transcript of the public meeting of Boston City Council