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Innovation, uncommon compassion and collaboration key to fighting opioid epidemic

Hope and Healing Center

Central Florida, along with the rest of the country, is in the throes of a devastating opioid epidemic. And that epidemic has been compounded over the past year by the suffering and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seminole County has been particularly hard hit, with overdoses increasing more than 50% from 2019 to 2020, growing from an average of 39 to 62 per month.

In response to this ongoing tragedy, AdventHealth, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, Seminole County Emergency Medical Services, the Seminole County Board of County Commissioners, and Wal-Mart joined forces in 2019 to rewrite the way communities address the crisis.

The collaboration between health care, law enforcement and government entities is addressing the opioid crisis by facilitating substance abuse specific medical training, increasing recovery services and access to treatment.

And now we’ve opened the centerpiece of this partnership: the Hope & Healing Center, an innovative facility offering both outpatient and residential services for substance-abuse patients, who may be referred from the hospital, correctional facility, or from the community.

The center, located in Sanford, is currently offering intensive outpatient services, including individual and group counseling; substance-related and recovery-focused education; reflection and spiritual healing groups; and career assistance.

Eventually the facility will be able to house approximately 30 inpatient residents at a time for 30-day treatment programs. Patients will also be supported with services that address their educational, vocational, behavioral and housing needs upon discharge from the center.

It’s an approach that’s based on uncommon compassion. We’re changing the conversation around addiction — we’re making sure we’re seeing the whole person, not just the disease.

For too long, people suffering with addiction have been caught in a cycle of “catch, treat and release” — meaning once they’re out of the ER, or out of the correctional facility, they return to the community and are left unsupported. For most, the cycle of addiction continues.

Since launching our partnership, AdventHealth and the county have worked to create a holistic network that navigates care and available services for substance-abuse patients so they are supported as they work to find a path out of addiction. Local organizations have jumped in to help form this network, and we are grateful for their support. This collective accountability and ownership is the most unique aspect of the center – one that we believe will contribute to the success of our patients in their recovery.

We’re proud of what we’ve done so far. But there’s much more work ahead. To tackle this epidemic, it will take all of us — health care, government, law enforcement, nonprofits, the private sector — we all have roles to play.

Dennis Lemma is the Sheriff of Seminole County. Tim Cook is CEO of AdventHealth Altamonte Springs.

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