Emory Healthcare is joining forces with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation to create the Addiction Alliance of Georgia.
Fueled by early and growing philanthropic support, the two health care organizations will collaborate and seek public and private community partners throughout Georgia to advance addiction-related clinical care, education and research.
“The addiction and mental health conditions of too many Americans have reached a crisis. And it is a crisis exacerbated by a pandemic that has increased anxiety, isolation and economic hardship. By joining together in this time of tremendous need and harnessing the contributions of concerned donors, the larger community and government agencies, Emory and Hazelden Betty Ford are ready to take on these challenges throughout our state,” said Gregory L. Fenves, president of Emory University.
According to federal data, more than 20 million Americans needed substance use treatment in 2019, but only about 1 in 10 received the specialty health care they needed. Addiction to alcohol, opioids and other drugs is a leading cause of disease, disability and premature death in America, with drug overdoses alone resulting in a record 72,000 lost lives in 2019. The national overdose epidemic now is worsening as deaths spike further amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One analysis shows a 13% increase in drug-related deaths nationwide during the first half of 2020. Another shows suspected overdoses (not all fatal) jumped 18% in March, 29% in April and 42% in May.
In Georgia, which has 10 million residents and is the ninth most populous state, the Department of Public Health said in a public alert that “the United States is facing two concurrent national public health emergencies: COVID19 and drug overdoses”—highlighting that overdose-related emergency room visits in the state have escalated significantly since the pandemic began and that fentanyl-related opioid overdose deaths from December 2019 through April 2020 were already 17% higher than the previous five-month period.
Representatives from the Alliance have worked closely with state behavioral health leaders to identify current needs and priorities in Georgia. Alliance officials plan to align with ongoing public and private efforts and work with diverse stakeholders such as the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Grady Health System, Morehouse School of Medicine, the Medical Association of Georgia and federally qualified health centers throughout the state.
The Addiction Alliance of Georgia will be focused initially on several key outreach and education initiatives, including possible prevention work at Atlanta-area schools, training partnerships with interested providers of professional education on substance use disorders, and community-based workshops aimed at reducing stigma by providing a better understanding of addiction as a chronic, treatable disease. The Alliance is also forging a new relationship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through recently created Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) agreements. The IPA agreements will focus on similar initiatives to support addiction-related medical education and the reduction of stigma for individuals with substance use disorder.
In 2021, the Addiction Alliance of Georgia plans to begin offering clinical services in Atlanta, with Emory Healthcare staff delivering the services and Hazelden Betty Ford providing management, training and “front-end” operations support to help expand existing outpatient services, establish virtual programs and provide additional levels of care. Until the Alliance’s clinical services are available, information on existing services and resources from Emory Healthcare and Hazelden Betty Ford will be accessible at AddictionAllianceOfGeorgia.org.
“In response to the pandemic and the dramatically increased demand for, and acceptance of, virtual care, Emory and Hazelden Betty Ford have both used telehealth effectively and extensively to help people with substance use disorders,” said Mark Hyman Rapaport, MD, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and Chief of Psychiatric Services at Emory Healthcare. “We see telehealth as a vital and growing aspect of modern addiction care and anticipate that the Addiction Alliance of Georgia will be able to help expand virtual care capacity in Georgia.”
In the initial three- to five-year phase of the partnership, the Alliance also will provide professional education solutions within the Emory system and collaboratively with other partners elsewhere in the state. In addition, Hazelden Betty Ford’s Butler Center for Research will begin collaborating with Emory on joint projects. Longer-range phase two plans include exploring a new detox and residential addiction treatment facility on or near the Emory Brain Health Center campus.
The idea for the Addiction Alliance of Georgia was first conceived by Mohawk Industries Chief Financial Officer Frank Boykin, former CNN CEO Tom Johnson and Hazelden Betty Ford executive William C. Moyers in 2018. Johnson and Boykin, both longtime members of the Atlanta business community, then helped assemble a wide-ranging, nonpartisan group of community and professional leaders to discuss rising addiction rates and possible solutions for the people of Georgia. After more than a year of cooperative analysis and discussion between Emory Healthcare and Hazelden Betty Ford, a unique strategic partnership was formed.
For more information, visit AddictionAllianceOfGeorgia.org.