Case for Support

Zero stigma. Zero deaths.

Massachusetts is a place of dreams and big ideas. It’s where the American Revolution began and where the first college, first public park, and first public library in America were created. We established the first public health commission, enacted the first public anti-smoking law, and we were the first state in the nation to pass universal health care. Here, global leaders in science, health care, technology, business, and education see limitless possibilities to solving our greatest challenges. In Massachusetts, we have the talent, the political will, a successful track record, and most of all the collective resolve to end the overdose epidemic.

Today, this insidious epidemic threatens the health of our communities and the growth of our economy. Addiction is a chronic illness with periods of relapse and remission. It is not a moral failing. It is a disease that does not discriminate. It affects people from every walk of life, background, ability, and gender. Nationwide, in 2021, the number of deaths from opioid use disorder (OUD) topped 100,000 for the first time. In 2020 and 2021, drug overdose overall was the second leading cause of death among people under 50, behind COVID-19 related deaths. Tragically, many of those we lost were young and otherwise healthy; nearly 20% of deaths in people ages 25-34 were caused by opioid overdose.

people on average pass away from opioid overdose every day in Massachusetts


increase in opioid-related deaths since 2013


increase in opioid-related deaths among Black and non-Hispanic men

deaths nationally in 2021 – the highest year on record.

There is Hope

Addiction can be treated. Sixty percent of people with an opioid addiction who receive treatment stay in remission, and 25 million adults in the U.S. are in recovery from addiction. Scientists, healthcare providers, employers, and educators are urgently testing interventions, and leaders in government, industry, and philanthropy are backing the ones that work.

We need to do more. That’s why RIZE Massachusetts Foundation (RIZE) was established. Our vision is Zero Stigma. Zero Deaths, and we aim to end the overdose epidemic across the Commonwealth.

[RIZE is the] Gravitational center of the conversation and work against OUD…using research, creating space for lived experience… thinking about being the voice and the convener more than the doer.

RIZE Funder

A Strong Start

Jamie, Life Connection Center, Lowell

RIZE was created in 2017 with the sole focus to end the overdose endemic in Massachusetts. We were formed by a groundbreaking collaboration of providers, payers, unions, and advocates including Mass General Brigham, the GE Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and the healthcare workers union 1199SEIU.

Our aim is to reduce the impact of the overdose crisis at all levels: the individual, the family, the community, and the economy. Our strategy is simple. We establish clear priorities: expand access to and equity in caregiving, build the knowledge base, convene the community and our partners, and take action. Our work is informed by our network of experts, providers, researchers, insurers, community leaders, and, most importantly, people with lived experience – those who face challenges with addiction or who have loved ones or friends who have struggled with the disease.

As a public/private partnership, RIZE is flexible to adapt our model when conditions and/or the research change. We work with our partners to align the many promising initiatives already underway, and encourage novel ideas and out-of-the-box initiatives to advance our shared agenda.

Together, we have increased retention in treatment for tens of thousands of individuals, introduced fresh approaches to harm reduction, reduced the cost of life-saving naloxone treatment, expanded training for providers, and educated the business sector and the public about the economic, social, and health impacts of the overdose crisis. We study what works, and strategically invest in the most successful programs for treatment and recovery. Then we scale up, in order to impact more people in more places. We share all that we learn to inform policy and empower others to act. And we intently examine our own structure, decision making, outcomes, and fundraising, and adapt our organizational model to increase our responsiveness, wherever and whenever needed.


invested in the community since 2017

…bringing external dollars and philosophical support to this partnership has opened doors to programming that would otherwise be closed… it took the money and this rock star philanthropic entity to support the concept. That’s what it took to get everybody to the table.

RIZE Grantee

The First Five Years and Beyond

We have learned so much in our first five years since RIZE was launched.

The drug overdose crisis in Massachusetts continues to evolve.

Although fentanyl is a main driver of overdose deaths, most now co-occur with a non-opioid drug. Deaths involving both cocaine and stimulants, such as methamphetamine, have been increasing at an alarming rate. Understanding the causes and developing solutions to increase access to harm reduction services and treatment for polysubstance use is a priority for RIZE.

Treatment is not one size fits all.

Treatment should be guided by science and delivered with compassion and respect for the dignity and autonomy of each individual. It’s up to us – the treatment community – to offer everyone immediate access to a range of treatments, including all types of medication for OUD, psychosocial interventions, and recovery supports. However, many people who need services do not receive them, in large part due to behavioral health workforce shortages. RIZE seeks to strengthen the components of the behavioral health workforce needed to deliver effective care, without stigma, for all people with addiction disorders in Massachusetts.

Harm reduction is an important part of the treatment continuum.

The purpose of harm reduction is to keep people who use drugs alive and as safe as possible until they are ready to seek treatment. Harm reduction strategies may include, for example, syringe access and exchange programs and access to opioid antagonists, which relieve withdrawal and prevent cravings. Integrating these services with easier access to effective treatment can create a more accessible, humane approach to care. RIZE is making strategic investments that strengthen harm reduction services and make them an equally important part of the treatment continuum for addiction.

Addressing the social determinants of health is fundamental.

We must consider all the possible influences on a person’s life — poverty, racism, classism, social isolation, sexual exploitation, and other social inequities — in order to effectively help him or her reduce illicit drug use. Many are quick to assume that a person with addiction can readily make behavioral choices that lead to a healthier lifestyle. This is not the case. Addiction is not an issue of bad behavior. Though it changes the structure and function of the brain, addiction is still a chronic, treatable illness. RIZE is dedicated to improving our understanding of the complexities and root causes of addiction and eliminating the harmful impacts of stigma on people who use drugs.

People closest to the problem often have the best solutions.

People with lived experience are generally the least involved in decision-making about solutions. RIZE is changing the status quo by including those with direct experience with addition – their own or that of others they care about – in our decision making, on our teams, and in our partnerships. We firmly believe in the concept “nothing about us without us.” Individuals with lived experience bring valued expertise to our work and we compensate them for their knowledge as we would any other expert. Individuals with firsthand experience serve on the RIZE board of directors, program strategy committee, and grant review committees, and they lead our programmatic initiatives.

2021 – 2023 Programs

Sarah at AHOPE, Boston

RIZE’s immediate goal is to improve the treatment ecosystem through innovative programs and community investments that build the field and drive impact. Our program portfolio aligns with this goal across our current areas of focus: Access and Equity, Harm Reduction, and Workforce training and retention.

Harm Reduction Training (HaRT) Scholars Program

Harm Reduction, Workforce 

Goal: To create a specialized internship program –  the first of its kind in the country – that will develop a pipeline of social workers trained in harm reduction. 

Grantees: Boston College, Simmons University, and Bridgewater State University

Evaluator: Northeastern University’s Public Evaluation Lab (NU-PEL)

Identifying Opportunities within Pharmacies to Innovate and Promote Best Practices in Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

Harm Reduction, Workforce 

Goal: To survey pharmacists to better understand attitudes, knowledge, and practices in serving people with OUD. The findings will inform innovative investments in pharmacies and pharmacists as a key intervention point in the OUD care continuum.

Grantee: Commonwealth Medicine (University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School)

Innovations in Anti-Racism Strategies to Address the Opioid Crisis

Access & Equity 

Goal: To improve access to addiction treatment in innovative models that reduce the stigma and structural barriers faced by Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Grantee: Boston Public Health Commission, Casa Esperanza, Codman Square Health Center & Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts

Evaluator: Cambridge Health Alliance, Health Equity Lab

Insights and Solutions - Investigator Led Research

Access & Equity

Goal: To initiate research and data analysis to increase access to treatment for opioid use disorder and contribute to the evidence base. 

Grantees: The Boston Public Health Commission Institute for Community Health; Brandeis University, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine 

National Medical Fellowship Primary Care Leadership Program

Access & Equity, Workforce 

Goals: To develop a pipeline of future primary care professionals from diverse backgrounds who are committed to serving underrepresented communities, and to build capacity at partner community health centers.

Grantee: National Medical Fellowship

Together in Recovery

Access & Equity

Goal: To foster an accessible, integrated treatment and recovery network in Massachusetts that champions evidence-based approaches, supports multiple pathways to recovery, and puts people in charge of their treatment choices.

Vendor: C4 Innovations

Understand and Strengthen the Harm Reduction Workforce in Massachusetts

Harm Reduction, Workforce

Goal: To identify, quantify, and understand the harm reduction workforce, build capacity, support practitioners and harm reductionists in their current roles, and provide educational opportunities for growth.

Grantee: Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management

The Role of Philanthropy

Ending the overdose crisis requires a proactive strategy, one that is flexible and open to the new ideas required to respond to the evolving epidemic. This approach is at the core of the RIZE framework and is one of the most important reasons why philanthropy is so vital to a strategic and sustained response. It allows us to flexibly direct funds where and when they are most needed, rather than being tied to a specific program or outcome. It enables researchers to work without the distraction of funding pressures. And philanthropy lessens the burden of fundraising on our frontline colleagues so they can remain focused on responding to people in crisis.

RIZE carefully stewards the funds of our investors, promptly applying them to the most promising models, the latest impactful breakthroughs, and strategies to combat this crisis in every community. We’ve been overwhelmed by the commitment and passion of business leaders, private foundations, individuals, and families to make a difference.

…funders like RIZE are also changing the way we think about addiction treatment. RIZE’s focus on collaborative models that facilitate coordination among medical, behavioral and community organizations – like the addiction treatment program at Lynn Community Health Center – are highlighting the critical need for care that treats the many facets and effects of addiction.


We’re Giving It Everything We’ve Got

Halting a disease as insidious, persistent, and deadly as addiction takes an unprecedented team— medical experts, payers, educators, employers, community groups, elected officials, the faith-based community, committed benefactors and, most crucially the voices of those who have lived experience with addiction and the families who love them. RIZE has mobilized multiple partnerships to eliminate addiction and its threats to our state’s health and economy, and carefully identified promising programs that need financial backing to achieve impact, replication, and sustainability.

RIZE is a one-of-a-kind effort to generate the philanthropic resources we need for lasting change. We have a strategy in place. Our support is growing, and the momentum we need to ensure healthy futures for our communities, families, and children is rapidly accelerating.

You can make a difference. By making a commitment to RIZE, you join a group of investors who believe that private social enterprise is a powerful engine of change. Together, we can exponentially increase the impact and reach of our collective investment in eliminating this unprecedented crisis in our Commonwealth.

With your help, there is hope.