Despair and hope

A young man named ‘Bobby’ from the Meridian House – a drug addiction treatment facility in East Boston-stood up and told his story to a crowd of residents, volunteers and health care workers on Saturday at East Boston’s drug summit.

“I was a good kid, from a good home with no problems,” said Bobby. “I got good grades in high school, I joined the military I was the last person someone would expect to get hooked on drugs.”

But hooked Bobby got. For him it started when he got out of the service and started to hang out with his old friends.

“By that time Oxycontin was big here,” said Bobby. “A lot of my friends were using.”

It only a matter of time before Bobby switched from the expensive prescription opiate to heroin.

However, Bobby’s moment of clarity came when he overdosed in his apartment while caring for his infant son.

“But I’m glad to say I’m clean and sober but other kids need our help,” he said.

Bobby’s story is no different than the story of the hundreds of residents struggling with drug addiction that the City of Boston has recently vowed to help through new programs here.

At the summit Saturday, held inside the Harborside Community Center, Mayor Thomas Menino and officials from across the city gathered to pour over the findings from a survey taken during an extensive door-knocking campaign two weeks ago. That effort was designed to raise awareness regarding substance abuse treatment resources. The findings were reviewed and a panel of experts discussed the complicated and serious nature of substance abuse in Eastie.

In addition, Menino announced a $75,000 funding commitment from Partners HealthCare to support a community education campaign on the dangers of prescription drugs and other community-led activities to be determined in the coming months.

“This summit brought the community together for an open and honest discussion about an issue that can only be confronted in such a manner,” said Menino. “People cannot battle substance abuse alone – it takes a community to support those suffering by raising awareness of the resources available locally and this summit achieves that goal. We’re not hiding from the issue; instead, we’re confronting it head-on together.”

During the door-knocking campaign city employees joined more than 500 volunteers who knocked on 5,000 doors and spoke to 1,400 residents. They collected more than 700 short surveys to better gauge the community’s needs and concerns.

While most residents said alcohol and drug abuse were not serious problems in their community, an overwhelming majority – 80.7 percent – expressed concern about drug use among youth in East Boston, and 66.4 percent said they were concerned about drug use among adults there. Of the 66.4 percent concerned about adult drug use, the biggest concern was marijuana, followed by heroin, cocaine, and oxycodone.

“East Boston residents opened their doors and spoke to us about their concerns about alcohol and drug abuse in their community,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). “So now we have an obligation to act, and to dialogue, and to summon our collective spirit to help East Boston residents grapple with this problem.”

According to the BPHC, the Partners grant will be used to support a youth education campaign focused on the dangers of prescription medication. In addition, the funding will go toward those efforts the East Boston community determines are most needed and appropriate for fighting substance abuse in the community. These may include: supporting a series of community meetings throughout East Boston to better understand the problem; developing and conducting a broad-based education campaign for adults to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse; looking at policies and practices around prescription medications; and helping to develop alternative activities and summer jobs for youth

“Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners HealthCare are honored to work with, learn from, and support the East Boston community as you embark on this great service to your neighbors and the larger community,” said Partners HealthCare President and CEO Gary L. Gottlieb, MD, MBA in announcing the grant. “We look forward to working with the Mayor, the Public Health Commission and the East Boston No Drugs Coalition in the coming months.”

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