America's Opioid Crisis: A National Town Hall

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
How can people who narrowly survive a drug overdose put their lives in danger again by immediately returning to substance use? And what can be done to put them on the road to recovery rather than back on the path of addiction?

Those important questions will be explored at America's Opioid Crisis: A National Town Hall, a free public event to be held at 7 p.m. on July 12 in the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, an award-winning health, medical and wellness reporter, will moderate two panel discussions at the event, which is sponsored by the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy and the Association of Recovery in Higher Education.

The town hall will bring together Congressional leaders and people from throughout the country who are working on the front lines of our nation's unprecedented drug crisis, a widespread public health problem that—fueled by addiction to heroin, prescription painkillers and other opioids—claimed 60,000 lives in 2016 from overdose alone. William Moyers—a New York Times-bestselling author, former CNN reporter and longtime advocate—will emcee.

"Many opioid-related laws have been passed in the nation's capital and throughout the country, awareness has been raised and money is being spent—investments that will make a difference in the long-term," said Nick Motu, vice president of the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy. "In the meantime, however, more people than ever are dying."

"Naloxone—the opioid overdose reversal medication—is saving many lives, thankfully. But sadly, even after surviving near-death overdoses, many will return to using, some will overdose again and too many will be lost," Motu explained.

"Too often, medical and law enforcement professionals, and families, come face-to-face with people who need professional care for opioid use disorder, lamenting the lack of options and knowing that, when addiction continues, those lives remain in immediate danger. We're going to look at solutions that would take advantage of this unique opportunity to connect people to the care they need and help them 'say yes' to treatment and recovery."

Panelists will include:

  • A parent from Kentucky who helped pass a compulsory addiction treatment law there, something several other states are now considering;
  • A paramedic from Minnesota who has revived dozens of overdose victims;
  • A peer support specialist from Rhode Island who lost two loved ones to overdose, survived his own and now helps others as a leader of the innovative program AnchorED;
  • A law enforcement official from Toledo, Ohio, where the unique Drug Abuse Response Team (DART) is connecting overdose victims to healthcare instead of throwing them in jail;
  • The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's chief medical officer, from Oregon, who is one of the nation's leading thinkers on the treatment of opioid addiction;
  • A Yale doctor who has researched new emergency room care protocols for overdose victims;
  • And a national Drug Court official, who will share about the reality that most people who benefit from drug courts do not begin the recovery process willingly.
  • Federal policymakers like U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Sheldon Whitehouse also will be speaking, as will Amy Boyd Austin, founding director of the University of Vermont's Catamount Recovery Program and the current Board President for the Association of Recovery in Higher Education.

In addition, Dr. Phil Skolnick will be recognized; he is the neuroscientist and pharmacologist who spearheaded the National Institute on Drug Abuse's partnership to develop the naloxone nasal spray that can reverse opioid overdoses, which is now widely available to both emergency personnel and the general public.
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