BOSTON — The prospect of more money for substance abuse recovery centers has lawmakers jockeying to locate the counseling programs in areas hit hardest by opioid addiction.
The state House of Representatives, which is debating a nearly $41 billion budget for fiscal 2019, is proposing at least five new recovery centers at a cost of $3.5 million. The move is backed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and dozens of other lawmakers.
If the extra funding is approved, a final call on where to put the centers will be left to the state Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from staking a claim on the centers, which offer non-residential, peer-based support for adults in various stages of recovery.
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, has filed a proposal with other lawmakers from the North of Boston region — including Reps. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, Andy Vargas, D-Haverhill, and Tom Walsh, D-Peabody — requiring at least one new center to be in Essex County.
"We have the second-highest rate of deaths from opioid overdoses in the state, and we feel the request is justified," Campbell said Tuesday.
Gloucester has had five fatal suspected overdoses this year — the powerful opioid fentanyl is suspected in most or all the deaths. Those deaths put the city ahead of the pace of 2017, when 12 suspected overdose deaths were reported, and 2016, when there were 11.
"We need all the help we can get in this region," Campbell said, "so we decided to plug for this as a group."
Recovery centers don't detox or treat substance abuse but instead provide counseling and support from volunteers, many of whom are former addicts.
"It's a model that really works to keep people on the road to recovery," Campbell said
Vargas has filed a separate proposal backed by a dozen other lawmakers — including Reps. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, and Paul Tucker, D-Salem — that would require the state to locate at least three centers in so-called gateway cities.
Another budget amendment, filed by Rep. Steven Ultrino, D-Malden, would require at least one recovery center to be located in Malden. Lawmakers from the South Shore want $250,000 of the additional funding to support an existing center in Plymouth.
Their proposals were among 1,400 budget amendments filed by House lawmakers over the past week. Only a handful are likely to make the final budget.
Massachusetts has experienced a surge of fatal opioid overdoses. State health officials counted nearly 2,000 such deaths last year. A year earlier, Essex Country reported the second-highest number of opioid-related deaths, with 280 confirmed cases.
Currently there are 10 state-funded substance abuse recovery centers, including one in Lawrence.
Substance abuse counselors say the centers are in high demand, and don’t face as much opposition as methadone clinics or other detox facilities.
"This isn't a case of not-in-my-backyard, everybody wants one of these centers," said Maryanne Frangules, executive director of the nonprofit Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery, who praised the funding request.
"We would love to see a thousand more of them,” she said.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.