Hazelden Partners With St. Elizabeth Healthcare to Fight Heroin Abuse in Kentucky

By John Lavitt 06/22/15

The commonwealth of Kentucky has been hit hard by heroin addiction.


The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has teamed with St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky to address the heroin and prescription painkiller abuse that is raging across that part of the state. The St. Elizabeth project is utilizing the Heroin & Prescription Drug Toolkit developed by Hazelden Betty Ford along with their COR-12 Best Practices Manual that includes a DVD/CD-ROM package.

Kentucky rated sixth in the nation for opioid overdose deaths in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The commonwealth has been hit hard with heroin addiction as the drug has been introduced as a cheaper and more easily accessible substitute for painkillers.

"St Elizabeth’s and Hazelden are taking steps to ensure the wellness of our people," said Jason Merrick, chairman of Northern Kentucky People Advocating Recovery. "Every one of our requests will be met with this commitment ... It's been a long time in coming. A lot of people have died."

As a hospital and extended health system in the area, St. Elizabeth is among the first health organizations in the United States to partner with Hazelden Betty Ford as the foundation reaches out to address the nationwide prescription painkiller and heroin crisis. The creation of the new opioid abuse treatment clinic at St. Elizabeth Healthcare is designed to combat the addictive power of heroin. St. Elizabeth is also recruiting physicians to obtain the required training for a waiver to allow them to prescribe Suboxone.

The partnership includes training for St. Elizabeth staff in Hazelden's Comprehensive Opioid Response 12 (COR 12) program, which combines Hazelden's traditional 12-step recovery method with medicine-assisted treatment. For those addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin, treatment medicines like Suboxone and Vivitrol will be used to help stabilize the addicts with a goal of tapering doses until the patient can live in recovery drug-free.

"We must move past stigma and let evidence-based science and compassion guide our response to this crisis," said Dr. Marvin D. Seppala, chief medical officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, based in Minnesota.

After the initial training is complete by the end of the summer, the two organizations will maintain a one-year relationship in which Hazelden will respond to any questions from St. Elizabeth doctors and staff. St. Elizabeth's commitment also ensures that heroin patients will be counted, for the first time, and outcomes of treatment will be measured,

"I think it's a huge milestone. We reached out to them. We thought, if this is what Hazelden is doing, then it made all the sense in the world," said Chuck Washburn, St. Elizabeth's system director of behavioral health, "But there are a lot of miles on the road left to travel ... The long-term goal is to be able to integrate it into primary care."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.