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In Mass., Federal Opioid Funds Target Those Recovering From Addiction

In this Monday, Oct. 1, 2018 photo Michael Robinson, of North Reading, Mass., in recovery from heroin addiction, stands for a photo near the Charles River, in Cambridge. Robinson recently became a union carpenter and has been working on building projects across the Boston area since. (Steven Senne/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In this Monday, Oct. 1, 2018 photo Michael Robinson, of North Reading, Mass., in recovery from heroin addiction, stands for a photo near the Charles River, in Cambridge. Robinson recently became a union carpenter and has been working on building projects across the Boston area since. (Steven Senne/AP)

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Stipends to attend job training programs and subsidies for cellphones, subway cards and work clothes.

These are some of the things Massachusetts has invested in using federal money to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Unlike other states, Massachusetts used the lion's share of its initial emergency funding to support those recovering from addiction rather than those needing treatment, an Associated Press analysis of federal spending data found.

The state designated almost 75 percent of nearly $12 million it received last year on recovery support services — the most of any state. Other states generally allocated less than 10 percent of their funding to such efforts.

The AP analysis of the $1 billion in State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grants, as the federal program is known, focused on spending data from May 1, 2017 through April 30.

Massachusetts opted to focus its efforts on recovery services because it already enjoys a strong network of addiction treatment programs, said Ann Scales, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, which oversees the federal grant.

Future federal funds — including $36 million Massachusetts recently received through a new batch of $1 billion opioid money for states — will also invest in substance abuse prevention efforts in schools, increased screening for HIV and hepatitis C and programs geared to families and pregnant women, among other opioid-related priorities, she said.

Supporting those in recovery is key to ending the drug epidemic since addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease, said Rebecca Starr, a project director at Advocates for Human Potential, a Massachusetts-based behavioral health care consulting firm that administered the largest chunk of the state's initial federal grant.

"Treatment alone is not going to help," she said. "If they don't get jobs, don't have housing and can't be productive members of society, they're not going to be successful in their recovery."

In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 photo Phillip Oliver, of New Bedford, Mass., in recovery from opioid addiction, prepares a meal in a culinary training program at the New England Center for Arts and Technology, in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)
In this Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 photo Phillip Oliver, of New Bedford, Mass., in recovery from opioid addiction, prepares a meal in a culinary training program at the New England Center for Arts and Technology, in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)

But what kinds of programs the state supports is also important, since the professional standards for addiction recovery work are still evolving, cautioned Leo Beletsky, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston who specializes in drug policy.

"It's sort of the wild west," he said of the recovery industry. "There's a danger of doing more harm than good if it's done in a way that's not grounded in science."

Advocates for Human Potential was designated $5.5 million — nearly half of the state's initial $11.7 million grant — to continue running "Access to Recovery," a more than seven-year old program focused on adults in early recovery (less than two years).

The program provides stipends for attending job training classes in industries ranging from the building trades to the culinary arts. It also provides participants with money to purchase professional clothes and other work essentials, such as a subway pass, cellphone or laptop.

Starr said the program has proven effective. Since 2010, it has served more than 20,000 people and resulted in low recidivism and high rates of abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

Participants are also less likely to fatally overdose, twice as likely to have stable housing and three times more likely to have a job at the end of the program's six months, she said.

Other organizations said they used their initial grant money to develop treatment programs for recently released inmates or to run training sessions for staff on addiction-related issues.

Overall, the initial batch of federal money helped serve more than 3,500 people in Massachusetts through the end of April, the AP analysis found.

Among them is Kenneth Newman, a 53-year-old Boston resident less than a year into his recovery from opioid painkiller addiction.

Earlier this year, he received about $600 through Access to Recovery to purchase a cellphone, a monthly subway pass and work clothes. He also earned a $320 stipend by attending a two-week class focused on improving his job search and interview skills.

Newman said the benefits ultimately led to his current job as a manager at a weight loss center.

"The money that the government provides comes back," he said. "I've already paid more in taxes than the benefit. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I wasn't enrolled in this program."

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