Learn more about ENACT: the Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation.

Read DeFerrari's article for the Justice, "Reduce shame and stigma associated with drug addiction", here.

View DeFerrari's television interview on Hanover Community Television (Vimeo) here.

See materials for DeFerrari’s Advocacy from Policy Change class work on bill H.3993 here.

Read about the work of the other "Advocacy for Policy Change" students in the 2016 Advocacy Anthology.

Brandeis ENACT Advocacy Award winner works on issue of Opioid Abuse

Joseph DeFerrari '18 (left) pictured with Danny Kimmel ‘17 (right) at "Present and Defend", April 19, 2016.

Joseph DeFerrari '18 (left) pictured with Danny Kimmel ‘17 (right) at "Present and Defend", April 19, 2016.

Joseph DeFerrari '18 reflects on his experience using the tools he developed in the course

Jan 23, 2017

Every year, students in the course “Advocacy for Policy Change” – taught by Professor Melissa Stimell, may apply for an advocacy award to continue working on their course project over the summer, or to undertake a proposed new advocacy project. Joseph DeFerrari ’18 was one of the spring 2015 Advocacy Award winners. His work focused on the Opioid abuse epidemic.

Advocacy for Policy Change is a part of ENACT, a new national program based on this course at Brandeis, launched recently by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. The initiative is designed to engage young people in state-level legislative change, as well as encourage citizens to bring ethical insights into the process of making and revising laws.

ENACT is made possible by a generous gift from Ethics Center Board member Norbert Weissberg and his wife, former Board member Judith Schneider. ENACT is also supported by the Rice Family Foundation.

DeFerrari recently reflected on his experience working on this issue in the summer and fall of 2015. Things did not go as he anticipated...

Joseph DeFerrari ’18

For the past year, I have been doing advocacy work related to Massachusetts House Bill H.3993, ‘An Act Relative to Persons Seeking Drug Addiction Treatment’. The bill was inspired by Gloucester’s ‘Angel Initiative’. The Initiative began with a simple Facebook post. Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello, following a weekend in which the town endured three drug-related deaths, wrote an open invitation to drug addicts: we will not arrest you, we will find you help; your life is worth more than your death. This Facebook post led to the development of a sophisticated program comprised of counselors and recovering addicts, as well as a network of rehabilitation centers.

It worked spectacularly – in barely half a year, the Gloucester Police Department helped 400 people get into rehab, and their crime rate dropped by about 1/3. Bill H.3993’s purpose was to clear up any question as to whether police had the authority to administer such a program, thereby opening the door to for police departments throughout the state to have their own Angel Initiatives.

I went to the State House three times in the summer. During the spring, most of the representatives my partner Danny and I spoke to already supported the bill. My goal in the summer, then, was to reach representatives and senators who were not as open to the bill. I spoke to the staff members of several of the more conservative House Representatives. I also tried to focus on the committee on House Rules, where the bill was stuck. In addition, I spent some time talking to the staff of my District Attorney, Tim Cruz. District attorneys were, I was told, the biggest opponents of the bill. They objected to police assuming discretionary power when their duty was to arrest people. Simply turning the other cheek and facilitating people into rehab facilities, they said, was a violation of that duty.

I discovered two important things. Firstly, I learned that the opposition to the bill had largely melted. DA Cruz’s staff told me that he was a strong supporter of the bill, and, beyond that, had started a task force to combat the Opioid epidemic. Every representative I spoke to was a supporter of the bill.

Secondly, (and I want to stress that this is my hypothesis based on what I’ve observed), it seems that the opposition fading made the bill less of a priority. The staff members I spoke to who were in support of the bill had no real sense of urgency like they did months before. Even Representative Ferrante, who wrote the bill, had seemingly moved on. Seeing this was perhaps my biggest challenge.

The bill’s whole purpose was to open the door for police departments to create their own Angel Initiatives. Without opposition from District Attorneys and others, it seems that the door is open.

I spoke with about 10 police chiefs in the South Shore and greater Boston areas, and each one had implemented some program modeled after the Angel Initiative. In some towns, the police department simply had an open-door policy for drug addicts. Others adopted something exactly like the Angel Initiative, and others created programs that were completely unique. Perhaps the impact of the bill, passed or unpassed, was to facilitate the spread of these programs.

I wound up connecting with the director of one such program. Scott Allen was one week away from being promoted to chief of police when I got in touch with him, and was looking to make the East Bridgewater Hope (EB Hope) program a force right out of the gate. The program takes the Angel Initiative’s concept and expands it exponentially. Once a month, about two dozen groups doing addiction-related work join together in the school gym. There’s Alcoholics Anonymous, there are support groups for parents of addicts, there are support groups for children of addicts, there are halfway houses and rehabilitation centers. Anybody who needs any kind of help related to drug addiction can find it here.

The first time I attended that drop-in center is when I refocused. Bill H.3993 would be a great step forward, and I’m proud of the work I did in the spring related to it. But I knew that my summer and fall should be devoted to finding new ways to make an impact.

I went to that drop-in center a couple more times, and talked with Allen a few more times. EB Hope will be doing some fundraising in the spring, and (as most of the people involved there live in the south shore) I will be helping them in the Waltham area. I also connected with a few people representing organizations there. One organization, and its representative, Katie Scott, showed me how to administer Narcan. Narcan, the wonder-drug administered like Nasonex with a simple puff to the nose, can literally reverse the effects of a drug overdose. With four people dying every day from a drug overdose, the potential for Narcan to save lives is huge. It is still fairly new, though, and very few average people have it. It’s expensive, and a lot of people still don’t even know it exists, let alone where to find it.

I decided to plan a Narcan training with Katie. We hosted it right at my local high school (the South Shore of Massachusetts was particularly hard-hit by the Opioid epidemic), and gave everyone there (mostly parents of addicts) free Narcan. That might be the thing I’m proudest of. The peace of mind given to these people by having Narcan in their homes is priceless, and it might even save a life or lives. Katie gave me the contact information of a colleague who works in the Waltham area; in the Spring, hopefully we can plan an event in Waltham together, maybe even at Brandeis.

One constant message I heard from senators, representatives, social workers, and addicts themselves was that the stigma surrounding drug addiction was perhaps the most harmful thing to addicts. It makes addicts feel ashamed for their disease; it makes families feel afraid to ask for help.

I decided to attack this with writing. I wrote a piece for the Justice that aimed to explain the drug addiction epidemic to an audience that might not have heard much about it, and to challenge people to act. From the article – “Of nearly 100 people with whom I have spoken since January, everyone – from the bold state senators trying to find new solutions to the doctors working with addiction every day to the addicts desperately trying to win their lives back – agreed on one thing. If America is going to climb out of the hole of the addiction crisis, we need to begin seeing these people for who they are. They are not criminals, they are not junkies…Take action. Educate yourself. Love the person in your life struggling with this disease. Change people’s minds. True progress will come when we are ready to break the cycle.”

Joseph DeFerrari '18

I was also interviewed on a local television show (pictured). I had the chance to speak (through sweat and jittery hands) about both addiction in general and H.3993. I don’t know how many times it was seen when it was broadcast on TV, but I’m told the show has a decent following. The episode has been seen 185 times online.

I spent the grant funds on transportation. I don’t have a car and am not near any public transportation, so I unfortunately had to use Uber to get around. Without the funds, it would not have been possible for me. I would advise future grantees to be cognizant of their big-picture goals and to be creative about how to get there. Advocacy isn’t black and white. The biggest ways I made a difference (at least after the class ended) were not in the State House. The biggest challenge, as I wrote earlier, was recognizing that the landscape had changed and that I should find new ways to make an impact.

This project has been an amazing experience for me. I took the class because I was tired of sitting around and talking about things that needed to change. Thanks to the fantastic Professor Stimell and the toolbox she gave us, I feel confident about my ability to create change, and am excited to continue this sort of work. Thank you to the donors who made all of this possible.