Discussion in Rancho Santa Fe to focus on addiction, opioid use

Professionals in addiction treatment and awareness will come together in Rancho Santa Fe on April 16 to discuss opioid use and prevention.

The event, presented by the national Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy in collaboration with the 15-month-old Betty Ford Center in San Diego, will aim to address local, as well as national, concerns on this issue.

Collaborators for the community discussion that is free and open to the public include The Nativity School; The Church of the Nativity, the San Diego Diocesan Mental Health Ministry and the Betty Ford Center in San Diego.

Panelists include:

  • William C. Moyers, panel moderator, best-selling author and vice president of public affairs and community relations of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
  • Summer Stephan, district attorney from the San Diego County District Attorney's Office
  • Kiersten Simon, executive director of FCD Prevention Works and part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
  • Dr. Joseph Lee, medical director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Youth Continuum
  • Terri Perez, deputy district attorney and narcotics division chief from the San Diego County District Attorney's Office
  • Dr. Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

Brian Couey, director of Outpatient Services at the Betty Ford Center in San Diego, recently discussed what will be addressed at the event, including what is being done locally and the value of people working together to help solve the issue.

The discussion will take place April 16, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at The Nativity School Holy Family Activity Center (behind the Church of Nativity) at 6309 El Apajo Road in Rancho Santa Fe. For more information, visit www.hazeldenbettyford.org/letstalk.

Why are opioid and addiction prevention hot topics right now?

The nation is really facing its worst addiction crisis ever, and we're losing 115 people a day to opioid use. We're dealing with a public health crisis, and we're really looking toward the leaders of the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy in the San Diego County community to discuss quality care effective strategies to empower our neighborhoods, schools and families to deal with this pervasive public health problem. It's really a shared responsibility.

How can all these groups working together make a difference?

You're looking at really changing the perspective from a moral issue or criminal issue to a public health issue. You can't just massively incarcerate people who are engaged in substance use. You can't overload the healthcare system in emergency rooms with people who are overdosing. Everybody has to work together to be successful. All the elements of the community have to work together and have alignment in order for things to get better. It's not just the job of law enforcement to arrest people and make sure people are incarcerated. It's not just the job of hospitals to deal with overdoses. Everybody has to work together from a prevention level all the way to a treatment level then to a successful recovery level.

Why is this crisis becoming greater? What's driving this increase to where 115 people are dying every day from this?

One is the availability of opioid use. You have products like Fentanyl and other illicit versions of opioids that are increasing the legality of the drug. That's one aspect of it, but there are also ineffective, underfunded resources for dealing with this public health crisis of which the scope is so enormous right now. I think one of the things that's really helping kind of move it forward is that we're not dealing with just people who are indigent or homeless or stereotypical. It's getting into high-profile families and local community schools. There's kind of a lot of attention being paid to it now because it's kind of an equal opportunity danger. We're making some good steps, and there's been some movement at the governmental level to provide better funding, prevention and treatment. Hopefully, it's really going to get better. Ultimately, it's not really about the drug itself or a specific drug because every decade we have some new kind of epidemic. It's really about people and addiction. We need to help people who are sick get well.

How big is this problem in San Diego, specifically?

We're seeing a lot of trends here at the Betty Ford site in San Diego. We're seeing a lot more opioid use among our patients, so that's really prompted us to use medication, assistive treatments and cutting-edge ways of dealing with these patients who come in. Historically, opioid use patients have terrible withdrawals, they've been in treatment and they have difficulty engaging in care. ... San Diego is also near an international border, so there's a lot of intake of illicit narcotics and, particularly, illicit opioids. There's much more availability of those substances here than you would find in Nebraska or some other state.

Who do you envision attending this event?

The event is free and open to the public. Attending are faith-based providers, educational institutions, community members and professionals. It's a good mix of all the stakeholders in the community coming together. We're really trying to reach as many people as we can. Hopefully, it's going to be informative, engaging and people will hopefully learn something. In San Diego, in some communities, the opioid epidemic is really something people don't want to talk about or know about. When you present the information in a way that's more palatable and that helps people understand there's a solution to this, then we're going to get more people involved and fewer people are going to be dying.

Why are people afraid to talk about this issue?

There's still a stigma associated with addiction. Even though we've been talking about it as a disease for decades, there's still this misunderstanding as not as a disease but a moral issue. It's work like this that's really going to help change people's attitudes and perspectives, and to look at it through a public health lens as opposed to something unsavory that people would rather not talk about.

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