RIZE Massachusetts Awards Nearly $800,000 in Grants to Implement Anti-Racism Projects Addressing Opioid Epidemic

June 16, 2021

BOSTON (June 16, 2021) – RIZE Massachusetts, an independent nonprofit foundation working to end the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, today announced that it has awarded $788,000 to four organizations as part of its Innovations in Anti-Racism to Address the Opioid Overdose Crisis grant program.  The four grantees are Boston Public Health Commission, Casa Esperanza, Codman Square Health Center and Prisoners’ Legal Services.

The grants seek to reduce racism in the health system and to improve access to addiction treatment for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).  These communities are unfairly subjected to higher incarceration rates, decreased access to care, separation of families and disparities in overdose fatalities.  In 2020, overall opioid deaths in Massachusetts increased 5% and among non-Hispanic Black men increased by 69%. 

“As our society’s collective response to the opioid epidemic has shifted from a ‘war on drugs’ approach to one that is more compassionate, BIPOC communities have still been left behind,” said Julie Burns, president and CEO of RIZE Massachusetts.  “It is unacceptable that Black and Brown people are dying at higher rates and face imposing barriers to recovery options.  Through the Innovations in Anti-Racism to Address the Opioid Overdose Crisis grant program, RIZE is hoping to increase equity and justice in the addiction treatment system.”

In October 2020, the four grantees were each awarded $25,000 design-phase grants to create plans to develop or expand interventions in harm reduction, treatment or recovery programs.  At the end of the five-month design phase, RIZE determined funding based on a range of criteria, and awarded grants for two-year projects:

  • Boston Public Health Commission ($247,700) will use the grant within its AHOPE program to create a comprehensive safer smoking and snorting initiative designed and informed by BIPOC who use drugs and expand its drug checking initiative within predominantly minority neighborhoods of Boston: Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.
  • Casa Esperanza ($165,500) will use the funding to expand the use of the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System-Spanish (CASA-CHESS) language access application to address racial and ethnic disparities in access to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, reduce isolation among Spanish speakers, strengthen recovery networks, reduce the impacts of stigma, and disseminate information regarding COVID-19. CASA-CHESS addresses relapse prevention and offers peer support, audio-based information on SUDs, medication adherence and direct access to a support team. 
  • Codman Square Health Center ($125,000) will use the grant to incorporate racial equity into its culture, programming and evaluation processes. By working with their community (including SUD patients), they will review program policies, best practices, and workflows.  Additionally, they’ll pilot their own training modules for staff that will address their attitudes and skills against racism and within treatment programs. 
  • Prisoners’ Legal Services ($250,000), in collaboration with Boston Medical Center, will use the funding to run the first and only medical-legal clinic in the country advocating for incarcerated people, and the only to focus on access to SUD treatment for BIPOC prisoners. The project is a medical-legal advocacy partnership with Boston Medical Center Internal Medicine residents and faculty to increase meaningful access to evidence-based treatment for incarcerated individuals in the Commonwealth.  The project will include further partnerships with the American Civil Liberties Union, Association for Behavioral Health, Boston University Law School and Harvard University’s Prison Legal Assistance Project.

Cambridge Health Alliance’s Health Equity Research Lab (HERLab) is the grant program evaluator.  The program is supported by funding from the Boston Foundation and an appropriation from the state Legislature.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic creating further barriers for BIPOC communities to seek treatment, substance use disorder has been a growing area of concern for the Commonwealth,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “These critical dollars will be essential to combating that increase and will help us get a better handle on this epidemic, especially by focusing on communities that have traditionally been overlooked in the past. I want to applaud RIZE for their tireless work in this area and for their commitment to equity as we work towards recovery.” 

“We are incredibly grateful that RIZE Massachusetts has invested in our efforts to address the specific barriers faced by BIPOC incarcerated people in accessing evidence-based substance use treatment,” said Lizz Matos, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services.

“We often find a gap between the actual needs of our participants and the services we provide due to limitations in policy, funding or capacity,” said Sarah Mackin, Director of AHOPE, Boston Public Health Commission.  “As we watch rates of overdose rates rise in Massachusetts within the Black and Latinx communities, it is critical that we seize any opportunity to apply new and innovative interventions to bend that overdose curve.  We are so grateful to RIZE for recognizing the urgent need for innovation, and for their continued support of AHOPE.”


About RIZE Massachusetts

RIZE Massachusetts is an independent nonprofit foundation committed to achieving zero stigma and zero deaths related to opioid use disorder by investing in meaningful solutions and employing broad perspectives that will save lives, reduce harm, and end the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.  For more information, visit www.rizema.org.