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Youth Substance Use Prevention Strategic Plan released

July 25, 2018

Recovery Services

Published by:

Recovery Services

The plan lays out recommendations for Boston's first-ever citywide youth substance use prevention strategy.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh today released a five-year strategic plan to prevent and address youth substance use in the City of Boston. The plan is the result of a comprehensive assessment of youth substance use and current prevention efforts in Boston.

"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 Youth Substance Use Prevention Strategic Plan, developed in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and other community partners, with support from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation (BCBSMAF), will guide the work of the Mayor's Office of Recovery Services (ORS). MGH will invest $1.3 million over five years to support implementation of the plan.

In developing the plan, the City placed an emphasis on ensuring that the strategic plan promoted racial, ethnic, and economic equity, by including data from all Boston neighborhoods. A majority of Boston Public School (BPS) students (86 percent) identify as Black, Hispanic/Latino or Asian, but the advisory group and community stakeholders reported that youth substance use prevention resources were not widely accessible to these teens. The strategic plan aims to address this gap.

Additional findings of the report include:
  • Boston benefits from a variety of prevention efforts arising from community coalitions, social service agencies, nonprofits, and faith-based groups, but the existing prevention system lacks a coordinated effort with consistent messaging.
  • Boston youth are using a range of substances, including marijuana and alcohol, in much greater frequency than they use prescription opioids, highlighting the need for more inclusive language in substance use prevention campaigns.
  • Lifetime alcohol use among BPS high school students declined significantly between 2001 and 2015, from 74 percent to 55 percent, while lifetime marijuana use has increased slightly, from 40 percent to 42 percent.
  • Substance use was significantly higher among students who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, with current alcohol use over twice the rate among heterosexual BPS students.

"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."

In 2016, Mayor Walsh announced that the City of Boston was awarded a $50,000 Special Initiatives Grant by BCBSMAF and had hired consultant DMA Health Strategies to conduct a comprehensive assessment of youth substance use and current prevention efforts in Boston. To inform this assessment, ORS convened a Youth Prevention Advisory Group of 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 use patterns in Boston.

"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."

"Mayor Walsh's commitment to addressing substance use in Boston at every level is to be commended, and very much aligned with the Foundation's strategic focus on behavioral health," said Audrey Shelto, President of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. "Our goal in supporting the development of a strategic plan that addresses prevention among youth is to advance the City's progress toward curbing this epidemic."

As part of the $1.3 million MGH committed towards implementation, MGH will award $500,000 over the next five years to support the creation of a new substance use prevention coalition in an underserved Boston neighborhood to promote racial equity, and $600,000 over the next three years to support existing community coalitions in Boston that are in need of funding to strengthen their youth substance use prevention efforts. This would be in addition to the coalition support already provided by MGH in Charlestown and East Boston. MGH has also earmarked another $246,714 to support the city in collecting important youth health data that can identify health disparities at the neighborhood level.  The funds are allocated through a determination of need process.

"Massachusetts General Hospital is proud to partner with the City of Boston on the Youth Substance Use Strategic Plan," said Dr. Peter Slavin, MGH President.  "With its emphasis on youth wellness and health equity, and a focus on low resourced neighborhoods in the city, we are happy to build upon the wonderful work of our Charlestown and East Boston community coalitions and look forward to strengthening our relationships with other Boston neighborhoods."

This report challenges the City of Boston to use its departments in more innovative ways to engage young people. In this year's budget, Mayor Walsh funded two additional positions within the Mayor's Office of Recovery Services to lead and coordinate cross-sector youth substance use prevention initiatives. While the report emphasizes that the City cannot realize this Strategic Plan without the support of community providers and key stakeholders, the work needs to start at the municipal level.  Among the report's recommendations, some include:

  • Improving cross-sector coordination and expanding leadership to establish a coordinated youth substance use 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;
  • Engaging academic institutions, foundations, and public and private sectors to create a more robust and responsive approach to prevention.

For more information, please visit: boston.gov/recovery.