Danielle Allen Announces Historic Commitment to Expand Substance Use Recovery Support, Reclassify Nonviolent Drug Offenses To End Criminalization of Addiction

Boston, MA — In every single community in Massachusetts, families are struggling to help loved ones dealing with substance use. In recent years, Massachusetts’ opioid-related death rate hit more than twice the national average — with five people dying of opioid overdoses every day under the Baker-Polito administration. But across our Commonwealth, instead of help, people who need treatment and support for substance use issues of all kinds are getting jail time.

Today, during a press conference held outside the State House, Danielle Allen announced her plan to change that. Making Massachusetts gubernatorial history, Allen announced that as governor, she will extensively build out resources and support for substance use recovery — and will reclassify nonviolent drug offenses as a civil offense in order to end the criminalization that has exacerbated the overdose crisis.

“People in every single Massachusetts community are dealing with substance use issues, or have loved ones struggling with these issues. Too many of us have lost loved ones to the overdose crisis,” said Danielle Allen, Democratic candidate for governor. “Our families know that if you need treatment and support, you should not be getting jail time instead. We need to stop treating addiction as a crime and start treating it as the public health crisis it is. This is how we save lives and help people recover.”

An Allen administration will save lives, support communities, and help people recover by building out extensive resources to support people dealing with substance use — and by reclassifying personal-use drug violations as a civil, not criminal, offense to end the criminalization of addiction. An Allen administration will:

  • Take Oregon’s work as a model and work with lawmakers to implement a harm reduction approach to substance use, as well as to eliminate criminal penalties for personal-use drug possession to make this approach possible.
  • Expand support and treatment resources so that we’re meaningfully replacing a criminalization system with better access to low-barrier treatment and supportive housing, destigmatization, and broader support for health and recovery — as outlined in our Health Agenda.
  • Create a better foundation for recovery by focusing on health equity and the social determinants of health, as outlined in our Health and Housing Agendas.
  • Refuse to use a strike system approach — so that personal-use drug possession is never a jailable offense.
  • Develop these policies in partnership with people in the recovery community, harm reduction advocates, behavioral health practitioners and experts, state and local lawmakers, and police partners like the PAARI network.
  • Support innovative approaches to justice and health at the municipal level, like overdose prevention centers and alternative 911 dispatches.
  • Expunge criminal records for nonviolent, personal-use drug offenses to make it easier for people who have been incarcerated to find good jobs and rebuild their lives.

The announcement follows a recent gallup poll which found that one in three Americans say their family has been impacted by substance use. Allen affirmed that a criminalization approach to substance use has been a failure — perpetuating the stigma that prevents many people from getting help, and driving the mass incarceration that has ravaged Black and Brown communities. Allen’s championing of public health solutions to the overdose crisis falls in line with the work of the harm reduction community, and builds on legislation proposed by State Reps. Mike Connolly and Liz Miranda in 2021.