Future Gándara Center Shelter in Springfield Receives Funding from State Youth Homelessness Initiative

Until recently, 22-year-old Fernando was in survival mode every day. Homeless for three years, he lived much of that time in a car. “At least I had a roof over my head,” he said. But there was one eight-month stretch when he slept outside in sleeping bag. “Homelessness is a terrible situation, especially this time of year,” he said.

Fernando, who asked that his last name not be used, was one of the speakers at a press conference on January 31 at Framingham State University, where Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito highlighted a comprehensive plan to end youth homelessness in the state. They announced $3.3 million in funding from the state’s FY20 budget to 10 community partners. Through one of those partners —the City of Springfield—Gándara Center is receiving more than $245,000 for services to homeless youth, including an overnight shelter for young adults that it plans to open in Springfield in the near future. The shelter, at a site to be determined, will have six to eight beds for youth aged 18 to 24.

The shelter is one of several Gándara Center efforts to address youth homelessness, which is on the rise in the United States. In FY18, Gándara placed 40 homeless young adults in housing. Gándara Center’s SHINE Young Adult Housing Program provides rapid re-housing and outreach services for up to 22 homeless, unaccompanied young adults. Research has shown that those who receive rapid re-housing, which provides short-term rental assistance and intensive case management services, are homeless for shorter periods than those assisted with shelter or transitional housing.

“Also, our Springfield Family Resource Center provides supportive services for families with multiple issues,” said Sharon Hall-Smith, director of prevention and community services at Gándara Center. “This, in turn, builds resilience in youth that makes them less susceptible to homelessness in the future.”

Gándara’s Impact Center in Springfield serves youth aged 16 to 21 who are, or at risk of, becoming homeless and may have mental health and/or substance use concerns. They are connected to resources for jobs, housing, education, recovery navigation, and more. Staff at SHINE coordinate closely with Impact Center staff, referring youth in SHINE housing to services at the Impact Center. SHINE staff also visit the Impact Center on a regular basis to conduct initial assessments with youth who may be homeless. If necessary, they get these youth entered into the city’s homeless database, which is the first step in getting them into programs such as rapid re-housing.

Indeed, much of what Gándara Center does—providing mental health, substance use, and preventive services—results in the strengthening of families, which prevents youth homelessness, since many homeless youth flee dysfunctional families torn apart by mental illness and addiction.

Ending Youth Homelessness Statewide

At the press conference, Baker and Polito also revealed their new housing pilot program to provide dorm rooms to homeless students attending college. Baker said the programs are “a very different kind of approach” in responding to youth homelessness.

“When you’re talking about young people, you have to think much more broadly and much more creatively and much more expansively,” said Baker. “The model that’s been developed in this state-wide effort is very consistent with the circumstances and situations that young people find themselves in.”

Prior to the press conference, Baker and Polito spoke with college students who have experienced homelessness to gain a better perspective of the problem.

“The biggest thing I would say is the amount of resilience these kids have shown on their own, in many cases, is extraordinary,” Baker said. “I just want to say how grateful I am that they can tell these stories and do it in a way that shows no regret, no anger, no hostility, but with the ability to say, ‘Hey, this is what happened, this is how I dealt with it, and now I’m trying to figure out the path forward.’”

Polito said that preventing and ending youth homelessness is a top priority in their administration. “The FY20 budget continues the highest commitment ever to address youth homelessness so that we can continue to intervene and work with local partners and leaders on college campuses across Massachusetts to implement the type of support services needed for young people experiencing crises,” she said.

It is estimated that at least 1,800 young adults in Massachusetts experience homelessness every year, but Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders feels that the number of homeless youth is underreported. She said when she was in college she listed herself as an “emancipated minor” but likely wouldn’t have reported herself as homeless. She added that there will be more comprehensive efforts in the state to survey homeless youth in the future.

“I learned the art of couch-surfing, borrowing people’s cars to stay in, and working in food services so I’d always have something to eat,” said Sudders.

In an interview, Fernando recalled his day-to-day focus of getting food, finding a place to sleep, and finding a way to bathe and wash his clothes. “There was also the constant threat of being picked up on vagrancy charges by the police,” he said. Fernando’s homelessness ended in mid-January when he got an apartment with the help of Framingham’s Tempo Young Adult Resource Center. He also has steady income, having recently gotten a job at a VERC convenience store in Framingham.

Fernando praised the Baker Administration’s efforts to end youth homelessness by connecting teens and young adults with education, employment and housing support and services in their communities. “This is like a kick-start to help young people get back on their feet,” he said.

IMG_9585 copy

IMG_9553 copy

By |February 11th, 2019|News, Politics|Comments Off on Future Gándara Center Shelter in Springfield Receives Funding from State Youth Homelessness Initiative

The Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law: Protection for Overdose Victims & Witnesses

Studies show the Latinx and African-American communities are losing trust in law enforcement. This is because of a number of different reasons, such as societal stigmatization and prejudicial rhetoric against minorities. While in some cases it’s understandable why this erosion of trust is taking place, it makes things difficult for combatting the opioid crisis. Mutual trust between police and the community at large is necessary for harm reduction services to act as they should. This is where the Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law comes into play.

The Good Samaritan Law is the common name for a state law that protects substance users experiencing overdose symptoms from being arrested. It’s meant to encourage people to seek medical attention if they overdose by calling 9-1-1, protecting them from prosecution for illegal acts such as possession of an illicit substance.

The rule also extends to people with the overdose victim; so if they witness an overdose, they, too, will not be arrested.

Related: Opioid Overdose Deaths Among Black Males, Fentanyl Use Increase [Report]

The point of the law is not to arrest substance users, but instead to urge them to seek sustainable, long-lasting treatment and recovery services. Responders on the scene may administer the overdose-reversal drug naloxone (aka Narcan), and provide users with dosages to carry on themselves if medical assistance is unavailable.

Now, the law can also be a bit tricky to understand. It doesn’t exactly guarantee full immunity from prosecution. For example, if someone at the scene calls the police under the Good Samaritan Law and the caller has prior warrants or is intending to distribute substances, the protection goes away.

Here’s a breakdown:

What the Good Samaritan Law does:

  • Protects people from prosecution for possession of controlled substances when calling 9-1-1
  • Empowers witnesses to call 9-1-1 during an overdose
  • Saves lives and gives people who use opioids a chance to seek recovery and treatment services
  • Provides legal protection for medical professionals who prescribe naloxone, or people who possess and/or administer naloxone to someone appearing to suffer an opioid-related overdose
  • Builds trust between law enforcement and members of the community

What the Good Samaritan Law does not do:

  • Does not interfere with law enforcement securing the scene at an overdose
  • Does not prevent prosecution for drug trafficking
  • Does not prevent prosecution for outstanding warrants
Holyoke Police

Holyoke Police

The Gándara Center hosted two Spanish-speaking Narcan training events in November. Here we provided attendees with step-by-step instructions on how to act if they encounter an overdose. These included techniques for giving rescue breathing to overdose victims and best practices for administering Narcan. We believe everyone—Everyone!—should possess, know how to use, and be prepared to use Narcan. It could save a life.

We also enlisted the help of officers from the Springfield and Holyoke police departments to help residents restore trust with law enforcement. The officers explained the Good Samaritan Law from their perspective. They reminded everyone that their primary job is to maintain a safe community and it’s not their intention to simply go around locking people up on drug charges; rather, they want to help people recovery from their substance use and/or mental health disorders.

By |November 26th, 2018|News, Politics, Science|Comments Off on The Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law: Protection for Overdose Victims & Witnesses

4 Questions for a Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Trans & Queer Specialist [Q&A]

Andrew Taylor is a Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and a recent addition to the Gándara team. He started in early September, and he prescribes psychiatric medications to patients across the lifespan. His main area of expertise is working with the trans and queer community, and in addition to prescribing at Gándara, he will help expand the available services for that population at the outpatient clinic.

1. What are the dangers of the Trump Administration’s attempt to classify gender based on anatomy?

It’s hard to know where to begin with this question because of the gravity of damage that would be done if Trump is successful in this endeavor. Gender is by definition NOT based on anatomy. If you are cis-identified, meaning your gender identity coincides with your sex assigned at birth, you may think this definition is accurate, but for trans people across the spectrum, a change in this definition would effectively make the whole community invisible, as it cuts to the core of what trans identity is.

It seems to me that people will be affected by this change in a variety of ways. For the trans kids of the world who are in the contemplative phase of transition, they may be less likely to come forward with essential parts of their identity because the adults around them may refuse to, or not know how to, recognize them. A denial or avoidance of such a central component of identity does long lasting damage to the mind, heart, and body of a child. So often trans people say they always knew their identity to be different from the mainstream, but did not have the language to explain it. If the language is taken away, then what? Kids and adults will then have to rely on the subset of the population still acknowledging this identity as real and valid, and that community may be harder to find.

“If they are hoping we will give up, they should reconsider the power of our persistence and our fury.”

For people of all ages who are already in transition, and who are attempting to change their legal documentation, they will now encounter barriers that will drastically affect the future of their lives. It puts safety at risk when documentation does not line up. Driver’s licenses, state IDs, and passports will not accurately reflect identity, potentially putting safety at risk both inside and outside the bounds of the United States. People may struggle to get married, adopt children, and get basic services, if not all documentation lines up. Healthcare coverage could be in jeopardy if people have some documents changed but not others. The list actually is endless and creates incredible complications for people within this community.

2. What are the dangers of voting no on Question 3, repealing the law allowing individuals to use bathrooms/locker rooms based on identity?

First we need to take a step back here and widen our understanding of this law, what it covers, and what a repeal of the existing law would mean. Opponents call it the “bathroom bill,” but that grossly under-represents the scope of this law, and instead addresses only a tiny portion of what it covers. The law is about Public Accommodations, meaning any and all PUBLIC SPACES. Sure bathrooms and locker rooms are public spaces, but so are hospitals, pharmacies, libraries, highways, public parks, restaurants, bars, banks, any kind of retail shop, gas stations, sports stadiums, concert venues, amusement parks, grocery stores, liquor stores, gyms, coffee shops, ice cream shops, public beaches, tattoo shops, veterinarian clinics, craft stores, hardware stores, etc. A yes on 3 vote continues to ensure protections for trans people in all of those spaces, not simply bathrooms and locker rooms. A no on 3 vote repeals legal protections in all of these spaces and does damage far beyond pulling coverage within restrooms and locker rooms.

But second, it’s also very important to address the fact that a repeal of this law would put a whole group of non trans-identified people at risk as well. Really anyone who does not look like one end of the gender binary or the other would be targeted and policed. For example, someone who was assigned female at birth, and who identifies as a woman, but who dresses in clothing traditionally deemed masculine, she is now at risk as well even though she is a woman using a woman’s restroom. It would be immensely problematic and will continue to jeopardize the safety of the trans population because people, both of authority and not, people will begin to police the use of restrooms in an unproductive and damaging way.

Related: Transgender Governor Candidate Helps Focus Attention on LGBTQI+ Substance Use & Mental Health

It seems opponents are waging the same war that was waged against gay men several decades ago, painting trans people–especially trans women–as predators, pedophiles, and criminals. But not once have opponents mentioned that trans people are far more likely to be the victims of violence in these spaces than the perpetrators. It’s an essential component of this dialogue, and opponents are choosing not to include it at all, which is quite simply, not in keeping with reality.

In moments when I am feeling low, I look at all the people who are supporting ballot question 3 here in Mass. The list of those in support goes on and on, requiring several scrolls through the webpage. There is only one group not in support, and the representation pales in comparison.

Ultimately, my hope would be that those in favor and those opposed could instead focus on our common ground, and work towards societal goals that carry more weight. A focus on policing restrooms is a distraction from much larger issues that this country is dealing with.

3. Why do you think these movements have gained traction?

I think people reflect what they see in leadership and when those actions are backed by a tremendous degree of power, the results can be very dangerous. Perhaps hate was lying dormant, and it has found a home in Trump’s leadership, and since Trump does very little to condone the acts of violence we see escalating in our country, the hate continues. If I were working with a patient who was telling me about this kind of rhetoric, I would not hesitate to call it emotional abuse. It’s destabilizing, and it is creating a traumatized society. And with one of the main symptoms of trauma being anger, it’s not surprising that we see the world around us growing angrier by the day.

4. What advice would you give to the LGBTQI+ community about living happy, healthy lives in a climate that feels increasingly prejudiced towards them?

In the face of trauma, there are several actionable steps that improve outcomes:

  1. Find a community who sees you, validates you, and wholly honors your identity; do not isolate, as it increases depression symptoms.
  2. Keep breathing, keep moving your body, keep drinking water, and do not let your self-care slip by the wayside.
  3. The powers that be are hoping for minority communities to crumble so power can be maintained by the elite few, but we must persist and remember that this is not normal. In addition, if changing legal documentation is part of a person’s transition goals, the time to act is now.
  4. Do not delay, but rather reach out to people who can help.

When I recently heard of the changes attempting to be made to the definition of gender, I read a response piece by Mara Keisling, who is the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality that I found incredibly helpful. She ends the response with the statement, “If they are hoping we will give up, they should reconsider the power of our persistence and our fury.” That quotation now hangs on the wall next to my desk as a reminder to keep moving forward, and spread as much love and positivity as I can muster.


Featured image via Creative Commons/ Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)
By |November 5th, 2018|Gandara in the News, News, People, Politics|Comments Off on 4 Questions for a Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Trans & Queer Specialist [Q&A]

Federal Policy & Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 Could Negatively Affect the At-Risk LGBTQI+ Community

The LGBTQI+ community encounters many stigmas every day that the heterosexual community does not. Harassment, discrimination, violence, and other stressors have a profound effect on the health and wellness of LGBTQI+ individuals. As a result, they tend to have higher rates of substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health issues. For this reason it’s important we examine two policy initiatives that will increase the risk of developing SUDs and mental illness in the LGBTQI+ community: a national memorandum on the classification of a person’s sex, and Massachusetts ballot question 3.

Recently the New York Times reported on a memo by the federal Department of Health and Human Services which stated a proposal to define a person’s gender as either male or female “based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth… The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

This system of labeling based on anatomy is flawed and dangerous. Not only does it go against widespread medical understanding of biology and gender identity, failing to take into account people born with sexual anatomy variations, it marks civil rights breach for a population who, under the Obama administration, enjoyed recognition in public spaces like schools or hospitals. Indeed, part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) protects trans people from discrimination by health programs or organizations that receive federal funding.

Which brings us to Massachusetts.

On November’s ballot, the residents will vote on three ballot questions. Question 3 considers the 2016 state law granting LGBTQI+ individuals the right to use public restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, not, as the Trump administration is now attempting, on their anatomy. A yes vote would keep the law in place, prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. A no vote would repeal it.

Fears have been stoked by messaging surrounding question 3. Those in support of no vote cite the possibility of someone using the law as a means of gaining entry into bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex for malicious purposes. But the Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH) came out in support of a yes vote on question 3, saying there’s no statistical data to support this baseless reasoning.

“The reality is that there is no credible evidence that there is any threat to public safety by protecting transgender persons from discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement,” said the ABH. “ABH urges our members to reject bigotry and discrimination by voting Yes on 3.”

Related: Transgender Governor Candidate Helps Focus Attention on LGBTQI+ Substance Use & Mental Health

Both policies, federal and state, have major implications for the LGBTQI+ population. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma and fear of discrimination can lead to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, SUDs, and thoughts of suicide; LGBTQI+ are nearly 3-times more likely to experience a mental illness.

To cope, many turn to substances and ultimately develop a disorder. Between 20% and 30% of LGBTQI+ people misuse substances, compared to approximately 9% of the general population.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that sexual minorities—the LGBTQI+ population—are “more likely to use illicit drugs in the past year, to be current cigarette smokers, and to be current alcohol drinkers compared with their sexual majority counterparts… more likely than sexual majority adults to have substance use disorders in the past year, including disorders related to their use of alcohol, illicit drugs, marijuana, or misuse of pain relievers… more likely than their sexual majority counterparts to need substance use treatment.”

SUDs and mental health issues are so rampant in this community that the American Psychological Association developed guidelines to specifically assist “transgender and gender nonconforming” people with treatment services.

It’s important for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, to understand the consequences of the Department of Health and Human Services’ policy attempts, and the misrepresentations of question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot. Concerns of the opposition are incited by fear and a lack of understanding. If we as a society truly want to combat the opioid crisis, overall substance use, and mental health stigmas, we need to fully acknowledge that the LGBTQI+ community is severely at risk and in need of support.

The Gándara Center fully recognizes the rights and needs of the LGBTQI+ community. Our youth residential programs have the capacity to, and are operated by staff trained to, engage and support this population.

We are dedicated to fighting stigma and supporting the LGBTQI+ population mentally, physically, and emotionally. We hope you are too.

Featured image via Creative Commons/ Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)
By |October 30th, 2018|Events, News, Politics|Comments Off on Federal Policy & Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 Could Negatively Affect the At-Risk LGBTQI+ Community

Sights and Stories From the Recovery Day Rally Celebration in Boston

The energy was electrifying.

Cheers roared through the building as speaker after speaker approached the podium, introduced themselves, their stories, their addictions, and their recovery efforts, and connected with a crowd that overflowed out into the summer heat. Enthusiastic shouts of encouragement echoed throughout the outdoor marketplace. Even among strangers, you could feel the strong sense of community. It was palpable.

Faneuil Hall in Boston added another memorable celebration to its long history of significant events. On Monday, September 17, the Recovery Day March and Celebration took place. Organized by the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR), the event brought together numerous individuals who have been touched in some way by substance use disorders, as well as the organizations who have helped these people on their pathways to recovery. The Gándara Center was well represented by groups from Hope for Holyoke and Stairway to Recovery.

Things kicked off at Boston City Hall at 9 a.m. People assembled. Father Joe White, himself in long term recovery, led everyone in a prayer.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey swung by. She mentioned as chief lawyer for the state, it’s her responsibility to sue people, not the least of which includes Purdue Pharma. Healey is suing the pharmaceutical company for allegedly misleading the public on the powerful side effects and addictive nature of OxyContin, a prescription medication that’s fueled the opioid crisis.

“Thank you,” Healey told attendees. “Thank you for your courage, and coming forward, and sharing your stories with the world.”

Healey had to leave to meet with Chris Herren, the community activist, motivational speaker, and former Boston Celtic from Fall River who’s in recovery. But before she left, she helped hype the crowd.

It wasn’t long until City Hall Plaza erupted with: “Join the voices for recovery! This is what recovery looks like! We do recover! Recovery is possible! When I shine, you shine, we all shine together!”

The march then wove through Court and Congress streets, chanting in unison, before entering Faneuil Hall. The building quickly reached capacity.

Maryanne Frangules, executive director of MOAR, and Marylou Sudders, secretary of Health and Human Services, helped keep the intensity up. Frangules, in recovery since 1981, rattled off the names of all the organizations present. Sudders, who lost her mother from complications due to addiction and mental illness, similarly touted everyone county by county. The tone of the speakers never faltered.

Once Frangules and Sudders vacated the stage, state lawmakers explained the importance of recent legislation that passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously. They then brought up representatives from the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) who also serve as recovery coaches.

A woman named Julia has been in recovery since September 4, 2017. Julia’s addiction took hold when she was prescribed medication for a spinal infection. Like many others who joined her, she found reprieve in her recovery coach who helped find her housing and meals, supported her clean living, and inspired her to do the same. She intends to become a recovery coach in her own right, and impart her wisdom and life experiences on those who need it.

“I find it not necessary to use drugs and alcohol ever again,” she said to overwhelming. “I live life on life’s terms.”

Shedding light on a population not outwardly associated with substance use and mental health disorders, a group of deaf recovery coaches likewise received a resounding ovation. Massachusetts is a national leader when it comes to providing substance use treatment to the deaf and hard of hearing community; in fact, Massachusetts is the first state to develop deaf recovery coach trainings. To date, over 20 deaf recovery coaches have been trained across the Commonwealth.

A coach named Katie has been in recovery since 2001. She sees coaching not only as a way to connect with an individuals in need, but as a way to advocate in communities and across regions. That she, Julia, and their peers have gone through the many similar challenges facing their clients today is an invaluable asset to their work. Many were, and some are, without transportation, jobs, homes, and the comforts of family. “We have the ability to give a voice to the voiceless,” she said. “The lived experience speaks volumes.”

You are the Face of Recovery

“I’m Marty and I’m an alcoholic.”

The speaking part of the program was capped by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Walsh is an alcoholic in recovery and has been a vocal proponent of increased access to treatment services, from improving the city’s treatment infrastructure to connecting with people on an emotional level.

Walsh aims to build a bridge to Long Island in Boston Harbor, which once was home to a residential treatment facility, and he continues to speak directly to his constituents. He mentioned one young lady, with whom he “talked about that sense of not being worthy” which he remembers as a major hurdle to overcome as part of his own journey to recovery. He didn’t see her again after that, thought she disappeared. But on one of the annual recovery day celebrations he mandated as part of his community outreach when he was a state representative, she showed up. She was unrecognizable. She was six-months sober.

He urged people to reach out. Ask how they’re doing. This can make a world of difference. A lot of people ask him about the intersection of Melnea Cass Blvd. and Massachusetts Ave., which has earned the dubious nickname “the methadone mile” because of the dense concentration of substance users who cluster around a nearby methadone clinic.

“Let them know where your life was, where your life is, and where your life is headed,” he suggested. “You are the face of addiction, you are the face of recovery.” After a lunch break, the event broke up into separate agendas. In one area of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, artists held therapeutic workshops. Back on stage, live performances like interpretative dance and spoken word poetry took place. The incredible turnout for the various events is a testament to the strength of those in recovery and the compassion of those willing to lend a helping hand.

Every September, the Gándara Center participates in National Recovery Month, which is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This longstanding observance is designed to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders, celebrate people in recovery, and laud the contributions of treatment and service providers.

By |September 18th, 2018|Events, Politics|Comments Off on Sights and Stories From the Recovery Day Rally Celebration in Boston

Transgender Governor Candidate Helps Focus Attention on LGBTQI+ Substance Use & Mental Health

On Monday, Christine Hallquist won Vermont’s Democratic Primary in the contest to become the state’s next governor. In a state where the governorship has passed back and forth from Democratic to Republican hands on an every-other-person basis since the 1960s, a Democratic Primary victory typically does not make news. But this year is different. Christine Hallquist is the first transgender governor candidate nominated by a major party.

Hallquist’s victory is an historic step towards the normalization of people who identify as LGBTQI+ as legitimate holders of public office. Just as significant, Hallquist’s win helps to reposition the spotlight on the substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health issues plaguing the LGBTQI+ community at rates higher and more harmful than people who identify as heterosexual.

For too long the LGBTQI+ community has been marginalized, stigmatized, and prejudiced against when it comes to SUDs and mental health. They suffer the many of the same addiction and treatment problems facing heterosexuals; because of longstanding—albeit, fading—biases, they are more likely to experience SUDs, suicidal tendencies, discrimination, and disparate care.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), LGBTQI+ individuals are “3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder.” This is largely due to the pressures of coming out and the fear of being rejected not only by loved ones but by the community at large, which can lead to anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use, and suicide.

A 2016 study supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found LGBTQI+ community members were more likely to use illicit drugs in the past year, to be current cigarette smokers, and to be current alcohol drinkers compared to heterosexuals.

LGBTQI+ and Heterosexual percent using illicit drugs

Non-heterosexuals are at an increased risk of experiencing discrimination within a number of community institutions. The Center for American Progress found that 43 percent of gay and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination and harassment. Nearly 60 percent of gay and 70 percent of transgender people have experienced housing discrimination, including being denied affordable housing. Gay adults are about twice as likely to be without health insurance, making their healthcare less accessible and more expensive.

Race and ethnicity also weigh heavily on LGBTQI+ people. Those who identify as Hispanic face an additional burden because, according to a 2017 study published in American Journal of Men’s Health, “it is feared they will display effeminate behaviors, violating traditional codes of masculinity.” They are pressured to conform to rigid gender roles and when they fail to do so, they face higher rates of family rejection. This can lead to depression and in their despair gay Hispanic men are more likely to engage in sexual practices with high-risk exposure to HIV.

There are a number of measures we can take to ensure the safety and good health of the LGBTQI+ community. We must acknowledge that their sexual orientation and preferences do not define them and should have no impact on their basic human rights, including access to health services, housing, and fair employment practices.

We must also put into place effective treatment infrastructure for those in need. This includes opening and properly staffing facilities, residential homes, and clinics; implementing community programs to educate and inform the general public; and advocating at the local, state, and federal government levels. All of this will lead to reducing stigmas, but we must take care to do this in both the long-term and the short-term.

Christine Hallquist’s primary win is incredibly important to the LGBTQI+ community not only because it advances the cause in terms of political trajectory, but because it helps emphasize that this community is composed of people with more incidents of SUDS than heterosexuals but are receiving less care.

The Gándara Center fully recognizes the rights and needs of the LGBTQI+ community. Our youth residential programs have the capacity to, and are operated by staff trained to, engage and support this population.

By |August 15th, 2018|Events, News, Politics|Comments Off on Transgender Governor Candidate Helps Focus Attention on LGBTQI+ Substance Use & Mental Health

Minorities in These Jobs are More Likely to Suffer Opioid Overdose Deaths [Report]

Residents with physical labor jobs in Massachusetts are more susceptible to substance use, opioid addiction, and fatal overdose. A study published by the Department of Public Health examines opioid-related overdose deaths by industry and occupation from 2011 to 2015. It found that construction workers; farm, fishing, and forest workers; and transportation and warehouse workers have the highest rate of overdose death.

The data included in the study indicate that opioids pose the greatest threat to Hispanics working in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations; followed by service occupations. Of Hispanics working in natural resources, construction, and maintenance, there were 76 (or 26%) fatal overdoses recorded, and in service occupations there were 66 (or 22.6%) overdoses recorded. For Black, non-Hispanics in service occupations, there were 51 (or 32.1%) recorded fatal overdoses.

Opioid-related Overdose Deaths by Industry

Data via Department of Public Health

Data via Department of Public Health

When we look at the data from a perspective of income, the risk for Hispanics and Black, non-Hispanics is clearer. The median income ranges with the highest overdose rate was $40,000–$49,999 followed by $20,000–$29,999 and <$20,000.

According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, in 2010 the per capita income for Hispanics in Massachusetts was $15,098; in 2014 is jumped slightly to $16,889. For Black, non-Hispanics during those same time periods, the per capita income was $19,554 and $21,725.

This means Hispanics and Black, non-Hispanics are susceptible to opioid-related overdoses, even if they aren’t in service or natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations. Without more access to educational services and opportunities to rise through income levels and tax brackets, Hispanics and Black, non-Hispanics will continue to be at high risk.

Image via Department of Public Health

Image via Department of Public Health


It may come as no surprise that these vulnerable industries and jobs are ones in which workers have high rates of work-related injuries and illness, lower availability of paid sick leave, and lower job security. Because of this, workers who sustain injuries in these professions are widely prescribed opioids to manage the pain.

A 2011 review of studies analyzing the use of prescribed opioids among workers receiving workers’ compensation found the average percent of injured workers prescribed opioids was 31.8%. In addition, 25% of workers’ compensation were for opioid pain medication.

It’s important to note that there was a 24% decline in the average amount of opioid use per injured worker between 2010–2012 and 2013–2015 in Massachusetts, meaning harm reduction strategies are showing signs of effectiveness, according to the Department of Public Health.

“Work-related injuries often serve as the initiation for opioid pain medication, which can subsequently lead to opioid misuse,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD. “Ensuring that jobs are safe, that the risk of injury is low and that workers have the time for rehabilitation and are not self-medicating to keep working are all key to decreasing opioid overdose deaths among workers.”

But perhaps the biggest takeaway here is that when it comes to the Massachusetts workforce, employees in low-wage, labor-intensive jobs that don’t require extensive higher education are more likely to develop an addiction to opioids and are more likely to suffer an overdose death as a result.

The study reviewed 4,302 opioid-related overdose deaths via Massachusetts death certificates. Statistical data for people who identify as Hispanic and black, non-Hispanic (the populations Gándara Center supports and promotes) may be an underestimate. According to the study, “death certificates among these racial/ethnic groups were more likely to have missing industry and occupation information,” and were therefore excluded.

By |August 9th, 2018|News, Politics|Comments Off on Minorities in These Jobs are More Likely to Suffer Opioid Overdose Deaths [Report]

In Capuano vs. Pressley Debate, Missed Opportunity to Talk Opioid Crisis & Mental Health

On Tuesday, August 7, candidates running for the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District debated at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Incumbent congressman, Michael Capuano (D), squared off against Boston City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley (D). The two candidates touched on a number of subjects; from race relations and immigration, to transportation and equity, to age and experience, but noticeably absent from the discourse were the topics of substance use and mental health, in particular the opioid crisis.

That is not to say matters like race, transit, and experience do not matter in this contest; they most certainly do. The 7th Congressional District is noted for its vibrant cultural and economic diversity.

More than half the population identifies as non-white, according to U.S. Census data. For 20 years Capuano, a Dartmouth College graduate with a law degree from Boston College and an attorney by trade, has represented the district and is highly popular with residents. Pressley, the first woman of color on the Boston City Council and former aid to John Kerry and Joseph P. Kennedy II, aims to unset Capuano on a platform of change, energy, and grassroots-level organization. She says her perspective is fresh and aligns with the diversity of the district.

The District is composed of the cities of Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, Somerville, and large portions of Boston, Cambridge, and Milton.

Opioid Crisis & Minority Populations

For minorities in particular, the opioid epidemic has been nightmarish. From 2014–2017 opioid-related deaths among Hispanics more than doubled in Massachusetts, a rate higher than any other demographic. In some of the district’s communities, as seen in the chart above, overall overdoses also doubled from one year to the next.

Boston EMS respond to dozens of thousands of incidents every year, and in 2015, 2016, and 2017 overdoses constituted just 1.3%, 1.4%, and 1.5% of those incidents. But, as you can see in the chart below, those small percentages actually represent a growing rate of overdose responses; from 1,544 to almost 2,000 in just three years. (Remember: not all of Boston is part of the district, though the majority of its land area and population are).

Data via Boston EMS 2017 Vital Statistics

Data via Boston EMS 2017 Vital Statistics

Still, there is reason to be optimistic. Data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health indicates overdose deaths and opioid-related incidents are beginning to slow down across the state. This is likely due in part to the growing accessibility of the overdose prevention drug known as Narcan. In Boston, for example, calls in which Narcan was administered were up 30% in 2017.

In addition, the state legislature has pushed multiple bills that target the crisis while Gov. Charlie Baker’s (R) budget allocates ” $203 million across multiple agencies (not including MassHealth) for treatment and services for individuals with substance use disorder, an approximately 70% increase since 2015,” according to his press office. It also calls for a $109 million increase in funding for the Department of Mental Health and a $1 billion in the Department of Children and Families.

Further, a recent study led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at the rate opioids were prescribed in congressional districts in 2016. It found that rates in districts concentrated near urban centers, including Boston and the 7th District, have the lowest prescribing rates and have been on the decline for years.

But this fight is a long way from over. That is why it was so striking that neither Capuano or Pressley used this opportunity to speak directly to their constituents about their plans to increase efforts to combat substance use and stigma, and support mental health initiatives. All of the topics discussed are in some way connected to the crisis and both candidates could have used those opportunities to nudge the conversation toward that subject.

Pressley’s campaign website has sections dedicated to substance use disorders, mental health, and public health. Capuano’s campaign website has a section dedicated to universal healthcare and improving community health centers.

The primary election is schedule for September 4. As of now, no Republican challengers have declared their candidacy.

By |August 8th, 2018|Events, News, Politics|Comments Off on In Capuano vs. Pressley Debate, Missed Opportunity to Talk Opioid Crisis & Mental Health