In Race for Boston Mayor, Former Addicts Back Candidate With a Past

A colleague who specializes in working with at-risk youth was fond of saying that we could look at those kids as predators, victims or resources. Too often we fail to see them as resources.

The same could be said of addicts and alcoholics. The

NY Times shines a light on a recovering mayoral candidate who is using his peers as a resource to get himself elected.

Tom White, who says he used to swig two six-packs of beer while driving home from work, has been sober for 25 years. Now, his Toyota Corolla has a vanity plate that reads “ONEDAY,” a reference to the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan “one day at a time.” On the rear windshield is a sticker for Martin J. Walsh, a candidate for mayor of Boston.

Many people in recovery stay anonymous and protect the anonymity of others, and A.A. itself does not get involved in politics.  But here, a candidate for the city’s highest office is himself a recovering alcoholic. This has moved many former addicts — drinkers and drug users — to step out from the shadows and publicly support Mr. Walsh, 46, a state representative who still attends A.A. meetings after 18 years of sobriety.

But what is especially unusual about his story is how his candidacy has motivated others in the wide universe of recovery to shed their anonymity to support him.

Former alcoholics and drug addicts are not typical voting blocs. Most do not want to be identified. Because of privacy issues, they are hard to recruit. Campaigns do not target them with clever messaging. Some have never voted.

But those who have stepped forward for Mr. Walsh bring an evangelical fervor to their mission. It is the least they can do, some say, for a man who saved their lives.

Some of these supporters try to imagine a day when their potential for political muscle will be harnessed and organized, and they see the Walsh campaign as a step toward empowerment.

“With Marty, we don’t have to hide it anymore,” said Peter Barbuto, 33, who once thought he had ruined his life by stealing money to maintain his drug habit. He said Mr. Walsh, who had coached him in Little League, “called my family and said: ‘This isn’t the end of the world. We’ll take care of him.’ ” Now, Mr. Barbuto is an addiction treatment consultant. Over the weekend, he was distributing campaign literature for Mr. Walsh in South Boston.

“We have a voice, and it’s going to be heard,” Mr. Barbuto said between houses. “Like the blacks and gays are now — they didn’t have any power and then they came out, and now politicians say, ‘We have to get the blacks and the gays.’ One of these days they’re going to be saying, ‘We’ve got to get the recovery community.’ ”

Number one cause of death among the homeless

Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska
Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Wow.

 

Overdoses of drugs, particularly prescription painkillers and heroin, have overtaken AIDS to become the leading cause of death of homeless adults, according to a study of homeless residents of Boston released on Monday.

The finding came from a five-year study of homeless adults who received treatment from the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, though its broad conclusions apply to homeless populations in many urban parts of the United States, the study’s author and homeless advocates said.

The tripling in the rate of death by drug overdose reflects an overall rise in pain-killer abuse, said Dr. Travis Baggett of Massachusetts General Hospital, the lead author of the study, to be published next month in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

“This trend is happening across the country, in non-homeless populations too,” Baggett said. “Homeless people tend to experience in a magnified way the health issues that are going on the general population.”

The study, which tracked 28,033 homeless adults from 2003 through 2008, found that of the 17 percent who died during the study period died of drug overdoses while 6 percent died of causes related to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.