On Monday, November 22, 2021, Paul Bowman, a lifelong champion for people who use substances, died of a drug overdose. Paul was a pillar of the recovery and harm reduction community in Massachusetts and a beloved member of the Boston Medical Center family. He was a friend, a colleague, and a trusted advisor. It is quite challenging to put into words the magnitude of profound impact Paul has had on those affected by addiction throughout the state of Massachusetts and beyond. He was a fierce advocate for people with substance use disorder (SUD) and worked tirelessly to end the stigma around medication for opioid use disorder. Most recently, Paul joined the Rapid ACCESS team as a Peer Navigator, where he was instrumental in managing the triage line, helping individuals in crisis connect with appropriate services. He also trained Recovery Coaches for the MA Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS).
Paul spent his time as an advocate, advisor, member, and volunteer for numerous organizations and research initiatives focused on reducing stigma, treating addiction, and preventing overdose. Paul fought to be sure the patient voice was heard at every table where addiction work was taking place, stating, “nothing about us without us.” He served as the Chapter Director of MA National Alliance for Medication Assisted (NAMA) Recovery and NAMA Board of Directors. He was a Certified Methadone Advocate and Recovery Coach and conducted training to encourage patients and others to become Certified Medication Assisted Treatment Advocates. After over 25 years working on housing and homelessness at the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, with his last five years as a regional supervisor, Paul became a peer recovery coach in 2015, first at Massachusetts General Hospital and then at South End Community Health Center and Boston Medical Center.
He was a passionate and compelling advocate, well versed in the regulations and procedures, and always held administrators accountable. More importantly, he helped policymakers and treatment providers see things from the point of view of the person in treatment and forced them to confront and change practices that were stigmatizing in nature. Paul advised several public health policy initiatives, including workforce development and using data to inform decisions, as Vice-Chair of the MA DPH BSAS Consumer Advisory Board for several years and most recently as a Consumer Advisor for the DPH Public Health Data Warehouse. Paul served on the Advisory Board of the Boston Public Health Commission syringe service program. On a national level, was a patient advisor for opioid treatment programs and successfully led policy changes to support patients in treatment. He served on an expert panel on the cardiac effects of methadone for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Paul supported many individual patients at hearings, supported and guided them with phone calls, letter writing, finding resources, and empowering them to fight for their recovery. Paul created four web-based groups for methadone patients, including the first Gay Opioid recovery group.
Paul has been a part of several media and newspaper reports to put a face on addiction, removing the stigma and giving hope to others. Many local newspaper outlets have interviewed Paul; he was featured in a radio interview with WBUR and filmed a 60 Minutes episode with Michael Botticelli, the Director of the Office on National Drug Control Policy.
Since the early 2000s, Paul was a regular participant in an annual addiction training for internal and family medicine chief residents. He openly and generously shared his experiences as a patient treated for a substance use disorder to help medical trainees better treat addiction. He served on grant review committees for BSAS and SAMSHA, giving invaluable feedback and input on proposed applications. He participated in the annual statewide recovery day at the Statehouse, sharing his story and face of recovery. In 2018, Paul was honored with the Lane/ Holden National Advocate Award from the American Association of the Treatment of Opioid Dependence for his inspiration to patients and colleagues.
Paul joined the Community Advisory Board for Boston Medical Center’s HEALing Communities Study application to the National Institute of Health, providing critical input on the design and implementation plans for the project. Since being awarded this $89 million award, Paul proudly served as an At-Large member of the Massachusetts HEALing Communities Study Community Advisory Board and served as the Massachusetts representative on the national HEALing Communities Study Community Advisory Board. He was also a key, active member of the Housing and Community Benefits team within the study. The study’s goal is to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths in communities highly affected by the opioid crisis. Paul used his position on the study and voice on this board to combat the stigma of addiction and advocate for the rights of people with substance use disorder. He even contributed to a published manuscript on the importance of engaging the local community when developing addiction programs.
Paul was the voice of recovery for those without a seat at the table, for the many lives we have lost, and for the many that continue in anguish every day. Paul used his passion, commitment, and empathy to make a difference for others. He fought this battle every day. He dedicated his life to treating this disease, giving others a hand up, addressing injustice, normalizing, removing stigma and barriers that cost us dearly. Paul was a true leader who was vested in the good of others. Paul’s LinkedIn profile states, “I hope that I have made a difference in the lives of the people we serve. I always try to bring compassion and respect to every family I work with.” Anyone that Paul has touched knows that he did this every day.
Paul will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues at Boston Medical Center and far beyond.