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Emory Healthcare, Hazelden Betty Ford unite to create Addiction Alliance of Georgia

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Jennifer Johnson McEwen
Emory University
Jeremiah Gardner
Hazelden Betty Ford

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.

With needs growing amid the pandemic, the two health care leaders are partnering and engaging collaborators throughout Georgia in long-term venture to reduce addiction rates, improve recovery rates and save more lives

Addiction Alliance of Georgia

Leading U.S. health system Emory Healthcare is joining forces with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation — the nation’s leading source of hope and healing for people, families and communities affected by substance use disorders — to create the Addiction Alliance of Georgia.

Fueled by early and growing philanthropic support, the two health care leaders 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.

“Ultimately, our goal is to help reduce rates of substance use disorder, improve recovery rates and save more lives throughout Georgia,” added Hazelden Betty Ford President and CEO Mark Mishek. “The disease of addiction is a public health issue so big, so important and so heightened now due to the coronavirus pandemic that it requires long-term collaboration among all who are committed to confronting it, and that is what the Addiction Alliance of Georgia aims to facilitate.”

Jonathan S. Lewin, MD, CEO and chairman of the board of Emory Healthcare, believes the collaborative, community-based model will have an impact far beyond Georgia’s borders. “By integrating addiction-focused treatment, prevention, research and educational initiatives in a unique collaborative enterprise that engages partners, the Addiction Alliance of Georgia will serve as a national model for reducing the negative impact of addiction and increasing the positive impact of recovery in our communities and throughout society,” said Lewin.

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. 

“We were invited to the table from the beginning of the planning for the Addiction Alliance of Georgia and are thrilled to engage with this unique collaborative enterprise that brings together both public and private sectors,” said DBHDD Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald. “By joining forces, we can help more Georgia families and communities prevent and overcome addiction.”

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  

“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.

“We have bold dreams for the Alliance, motivated by the enormous needs we’re seeing among our family, friends and neighbors and the reality that treatment is effective and recovery works if only we can connect people with the help and long-term resources they need,” said Hazelden Betty Ford’s Mishek. “It’s fitting to launch the Addiction Alliance of Georgia during National Recovery Month, a time every year when we celebrate the more than 20 million Americans who have overcome substance use problems and the very real hope they represent.” 

The Alliance is depending on philanthropic support from individuals, corporations and foundations to help fund its lifesaving activities. 

“We are deeply grateful for the generous support we have received for this exciting collaboration that will save and transform lives,” said Rapaport. “We will continue efforts to secure additional philanthropic support on our way to helping Georgia become a leader in the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.” 

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.

“With proven expertise and complementary strengths, these two institutions are destined to achieve unprecedented results by working together,” said Johnson. “Emory has Georgia’s largest, most comprehensive health care system and is an international leader in medical research and education. Hazelden Betty Ford is the world’s leading nonprofit singularly dedicated to combating addiction and helping people establish lifelong recovery. From the beginning, we have been inspired by the possibilities of bringing together these two highly respected, world-class organizations.”

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About Emory Healthcare/Emory Brain Health Center

The Emory Brain Health Center uniquely integrates neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, rehabilitation medicine and sleep medicine to offer world-class, patient-centered care, treatment and discovery for brain and spinal cord conditions. Bringing these multiple specialties together allows more than 400 researchers and clinicians to work in partnership to predict, prevent, treat and cure devastating diseases and disorders of the brain more rapidly. These collaborations are demonstrated in numerous centers and programs across the Brain Health Center, including the Epilepsy Center, Pituitary Center, Stroke Center, Treatment-Resistant Depression Program and Veterans Program. Emory’s multidisciplinary approach is transforming the world’s understanding of the vast frontiers of the brain, harnessing imagination and discovery to address 21st century challenges. Learn more about comprehensive, diagnostic and innovative treatment options at the Emory Brain Health Center.

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation’s leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and co-occurring mental health treatment for adults and youth, the Foundation has 17 locations nationwide, with expansive on-site and telehealth solutions and a network of collaborators throughout health care. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction. Learn more at and on Twitter @hazldnbettyford.

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