“The Methadone Mile” is a strip of land near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard known to be populated by individuals with substance abuse issues. Methadone clinics, homeless shelters and drug treatment centers also fill the area.
In 2014, more people were displaced into the Methadone Mile area by the closure of Boston’s Long Island treatment facilities. The bridge to the island was demolished and attempts to restore the recovery center or rebuild the bridge stalled in 2020 after an expensive lawsuit.
The city has made multiple attempts to dismantle the Methadone Mile since then. In 2019, the Boston Police crushed residents’ wheelchairs in a trash compactor as part of “Operation Clean Sweep,” an effort to expel those suffering from substance abuse in this area.
Mayor Walsh built a task force in 2019 and proposed a “Mass and Cass 2.0” plan to help the people in the area, but the task force rarely met and was badly managed.
In 2020, due to the rise of the pandemic exacerbating the conditions of the homeless population, the city opened a “comfort station” in the area to provide residents with bathroom facilities and medical supplies.
Some people labeled these stations as useless, as they did not provide enough aid, but they nonetheless provided essential services to the residents of this area.
On July 29, Acting Mayor Kim Janey permanently closed the comfort station due to security concerns, as there were five stabbings in the area this year, and an alleged “permissive attitude” towards drug use. But there seem to be more than security concerns behind the closing.
Businesses in the area have recently complained about their employees not wanting to visit their area and their windows being smashed.
Janey claims a more effective task force is being planned, but she has yet to come up with clear directives or plans as to how this will happen.
“The City continues to work collaboratively to improve the Mass and Cass 2.0 Plan, based on the Mayor’s proposed action plan on how to move forward. The City looks forward to our continued work with the Task Force to best address the needs of individuals suffering from substance use disorder, as well as promote public safety in the area,” Janey’s office stated in the announcement to close the station.
When explaining the government’s work in the area, Janey framed drug-related arrests as a sign of progress rather than an indication of the further criminalization of substance abuse.
Though Janey claims the government does not mean to prioritize businesses over the residents of the area, the lack of clear plans indicate a lack of care for the residents of the mile. Moreover, the lack of specificity feels politically motivated given the upcoming election.
Fear-mongering articles describe the area as a “third world country” and emphasize the number of tents as they paint the area as crime ridden and lawless. In an article by Boston 25 News, Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkin was quoted saying, “I’m sure there are homeless populations across the country. We don’t live across the country. We live here in Boston. There is no reason for such an affluent city/state to allow this type of thing to happen.”
The opioid crisis is a pressing issue in Massachusetts. The National Institute on Drug Addiction reported that 88% of drug overdose deaths in the state involved opioids. Moreover, the opioid crisis has exacerbated existing systemic racism. Last May, state health officials stated that opioid-related overdose deaths increased by 70% for Black Massachusetts residents.
Without a real adequate plan for its place, the closing of the “comfort station” is a slap in the face for those people who are struggling every day out there. The pandemic is still at large, and many businesses still have not opened their restrooms to the public — one of the only resources for people experiencing homelessness to gain access to hygiene.
This is not to say that concerns for safety and the violence in the area are not valid issues, however, crime is a symptom of the problem — not the problem itself.
In 2016, the ACLU and the Human Rights Watch published a report emphasizing the devastating results of criminalizing drug use, which only further perpetuates poverty cycles and causes further human suffering while doing little to prevent drug addiction.
But what does the closing of this station have to do with us? Most college students may never see the Methadone Mile in person, despite the fact that it is a mere 30-minute T ride away from Boston University’s campus.
First of all, it is important to acknowledge the difference between how drug use is treated on college campuses versus how it is treated on the Methadone Mile. A 2018 survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that college students are more likely to misuse Adderall — a drug somewhat chemically similar to meth — and cocaine. BU’s Good Samaritan policy dictates that a student who reaches out for help after using drugs or alcohol will not receive punishment as long as they complete an educational or counseling program. It is important to ask for whom is drug use being criminalized and why?
We as college students may never come across the devastation of the Methadone Mile, but it is crucial that we care about these issues and about the members of our community. In a lot of these cases, police sweeps and displacement efforts are done for our sake.
Politicians should create more substantial plans that provide actual treatment options rather than criminalizing substance abuse and removing essential resources that mean life and death for a lot of the residents of this area.