Emory, Hazelden teaming up to fight addiction and aid recovery

Alliance forming as the overdose crisis is worsening amid the coronavirus pandemic

Emory Healthcare and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation announced Wednesday their joint effort ― the Addiction Alliance of Georgia ― will begin offering clinical services next year and explore opening a detox and residential treatment center in Atlanta.

Aiming to halt addiction, improve recovery rates and save lives, Emory and Hazelden confirmed they have secured about $1 million in donations and commitments toward a $10 million goal for clinical programs, education and research.

Next year, the alliance will start an intensive outpatient program at Emory University Hospital at Wesley Woods, create a virtual outpatient effort and introduce a partial hospitalization program.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported on Emory and Hazelden’s developing plans in November.

Their announcement comes as the opioid abuse epidemic is worsening in America amid the coronavirus pandemic, an anxiety-inducing public health crisis that is causing widespread isolation and joblessness.

Starting in late March, emergency room visits for drug overdoses involving opioids began increasing by nearly 6% on average each week, a Georgia Public Health Department report shows. Meanwhile, overdose deaths involving fentanyl jumped 17% among Georgia residents between December and April, compared to the previous five-month span.

“By joining together in this time of tremendous need and harnessing the contributions of concerned donors,” Emory University President Gregory Fenves said in a prepared statement, “the larger community and government agencies, Emory and Hazelden Betty Ford are ready to take on these challenges throughout our state.”

More than 72,000 people died from drug overdoses in America between February 2019 and February 2020, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Last year, 21.6 million people who were 12 or older needed treatment, but only 12% of them got it at specialty facilities in the past 12 months, a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows.

“The main factors have to do with both stigma and knowledge,” Dr. Marvin Seppala, Hazelden’s chief medical officer, said during an online news conference Wednesday. “People don’t know anything about this illness and don’t know they have it. And there is so much stigma in the way of just seeking help.”

The alliance grew out of months of meetings involving dozens of community leaders concerned about the overdose crisis. A big part of their mission is helping people who do not have medical insurance.

In three to five years, Emory and Hazelden will consider opening a new detox and residential addiction treatment center on or near the Emory Brain Health Center in Atlanta. Cost estimates for that range between $40 million and $50 million.

Among the alliance’s other plans: Possible addiction prevention work in Atlanta-area schools, training partnerships, and community workshops aimed at reducing the stigma surrounding addiction.

The alliance said it will also work with state and federal public health officials, Grady Health System, Morehouse School of Medicine and the Medical Association of Georgia.

The pandemic, meanwhile, has separated many people from others who are helping them recover, said Graham Skinner, a former Norcross High School star quarterback who has publicly shared his harrowing story of recovering from drug addiction.

“It was literally like within a week’s time: Don’t leave your house. You can’t go anywhere. Stay inside,” said Skinner, a business development representative at Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center in Ball Ground. “That caused a lot of issues because a lot of people in recovery had just lost that whole sense of community. It is just a recipe for relapse.”

Many people are now seeking help through telemedicine, Skinner said. He is not a part of Emory and Hazelden’s alliance, though he welcomes the effort, given the demand for treatment among uninsured patients.

“The more the merrier,” he said. “We need it.”