March 15, 2024

"We're All in This Together": BMC's Inaugural Addiction Conference Opens with Solidarity and Innovation Message

Boston Medical Center
Bisola Ojikutu, MD, MPH executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission kicks off Together for Hope (Boston Medical Center).

"None of the future innovations will happen without you by our side," said keynote speaker Dr. Bisola Ojikutu about addiction interventions.

One of the first messages that came from the stage of Boston Medical Center’s Together for Hope: Boston Addiction Conference 2024, was that we were all sitting “in the heart of Boston.” The two-day conference kicked off this morning at Roxbury Community College and the Reggie Lewis Center, both located in the epicenter of one of Boston’s most diverse communities, Roxbury. The location is not only fitting, but crucial, as it allows the conference to be accessible to many different voices and community groups  often those who are most directly impacted by and working tirelessly to address the overdose epidemic.

Miriam Komaromy, MD, the medical director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at BMC, spoke about the invite and speaker list during her opening remarks, noting just how intentionally unique it was.

“When I first conceived of this conference over a year ago, I imagined bringing together many different groups who were often siloed from each other,” she said. “However, I didn’t dream that we would create something so big, so diverse, and so exciting.”

A video that opened day one of the conference specifically included people living with SUD speaking to the camera about how they have felt their voices were missing from conversations about interventions and treatments to address the overdose crisis. BMC’s inaugural addiction conference was deliberate in changing that, ensuring that people with lived experience of addiction — particularly from our communities in Boston — had a voice in the room.

Alongside clinicians and people with lived experience, the conference is host to educators, researchers, harm reductionists, administrators, and policymakers, among others. The latter, the policymaker voice, was showcased in the morning’s keynote address.

Boston as an addiction care trailblazer

Bisola Ojikutu, MD, MPH, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, delivered an address to open the morning titled, “Responding to Substance Use Disorder in Boston.” Ojikutu is a nationally recognized physician leader, health equity researcher, community advocate, and expert in the prevention, care, and treatment of infectious diseases. She used this opportunity at Together for Hope to speak about the past, present, and ideal future of substance use disorder in Boston — and she had one very clear message: “We’re all in this together.”

“Boston has been a forerunner [in addiction interventions], and has lead the way nationally, though we still have a ways to go,” Ojikutu says, mentioning how Boston’s innovative ways have been in place since 1997 when, amid the AIDS crisis, the City started a syringe services program, which, at the time, was controversial.

Now, as the overdose crisis continues — the leading cause of death across the city of Boston in the last three years was overdose — sometimes we need to think differently to make progress, she says.

“How do we continue to be novel, how do we continue to be comprehensive? It’s about partnerships,” she says, adding that also, sometimes that means thinking outside the box. Addressing SUD in Boston will require us to be innovative, particularly when we think about interventions for Black Bostonians who are being disproportionately impacted.

Returning to the message of including more voices at the table, Ojikutu notes that none of this work can be done without working together across the diverse spectrum of addiction professionals and people with lived experience.

“None of this would happen without partners who are in this room,” Ojikutu says. “None of the future innovations will happen without you by our side.”

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About the Author

Caitlin White

Caitlin White is the Senior Content Manager at Boston Medical Center.

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