Center City, Minn. (July 14, 2021) — Marvin D. Seppala, MD, a nationally known psychiatrist and addiction treatment leader who pioneered a new, integrated approach to treating opioid addiction and inspired others with his own story of recovery, will retire as chief medical officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation at the end of 2021.
"As a highly trained doctor with the lived experience of recovery, Marv has brought unique value to Hazelden Betty Ford's merging of science and spirit and has been instrumental in the evolution of our comprehensive care," said Joseph Lee, MD, president and CEO of Hazelden Betty Ford, the nation's largest nonprofit system of addiction treatment, mental health care, recovery resources and related prevention and education services. "Marv's service goes far beyond what he has done for our organization. He has made a positive mark on the entire field of addiction care and has done so with a serene, loving spirit that has made him cherished by patients, peers and colleagues alike."
Dr. Seppala, who grew up in southern Minnesota and now lives near Portland, Ore., has been Hazelden Betty Ford's chief doctor for most of the past 25 years, with two brief stints of work elsewhere during that time. He plans to retire in October and spend more time writing and with family. A national search for his successor will begin soon.
Foremost among Dr. Seppala's many achievements has been the development, implementation and study of Hazelden Betty Ford's Comprehensive Opioid Response with the Twelve Steps (COR-12®). Launched in 2012, COR-12 integrates medication-assisted treatment with clinical therapies, Twelve Step-based practices and other peer support to treat opioid use disorder in a specialized addiction treatment setting; it has improved outcomes and influenced other providers nationally.
When COR-12 was launched, Hazelden Betty Ford heard from both extremes: those who were ideologically opposed to the use of medications such as buprenorphine and naltrexone, thinking it was just replacing one drug with another; and those who favored medications but remained ideologically opposed or indifferent to counseling and peer support, especially anything that might include spiritual elements like the Twelve Steps.
"Marv showed great courage and fortitude in leading Hazelden Betty Ford to bridge ideological divides, embrace multiple effective approaches, and demonstrate that they can work together, ideally, or in any combination—providing patients with choices and multiple paths to recovery," said Mark G. Mishek, who himself recently retired as President and CEO of Hazelden Betty Ford. "That's a historic contribution to the discipline of addiction care that will positively impact people's lives forever."
Stephen Delisi, MD, medical director for Hazelden Betty Ford's professional education and consultation division, has worked with providers throughout the United States to implement COR-12 in many settings, from correctional facilities to hospital emergency rooms to other treatment centers.
"By bringing together the best of medicine, behavioral healthcare and time-tested wisdom traditions in an operationalized way to provide individualized care that treats the whole person, Marv has forged a new frontier for addiction treatment and perhaps all of healthcare," Dr. Delisi said. "Because of his leadership, many more people now have access to the compassion of therapy, the blueprint for living found in Twelve Step communities, and the potentially lifesaving medications that reduce risk of returning to use and overdose."
When Dr. Seppala was hired in 1995, after an earlier part-time position, he became the organization's first full-time physician. Before that, medical and psychiatric care was provided by on-call consultant doctors. Throughout his tenure, Dr. Seppala has been instrumental in advancing a vision for quality that integrates a much more robust level of medical and mental health care into addiction treatment. All the while, his work has been informed by something more personal—his own recovery from substance use disorder.
"My first experience with Hazelden was actually 48 years ago, when at 17—hopelessly lost in the chaos of addiction and disowned by my family—I became its first adolescent patient and was exposed for the first time to the healing and life-giving power of intimate human connection and positive emotions such as non-romantic, non-familial love," Dr. Seppala said. "I returned a few years later during another difficult stretch—not using substances but distraught by other symptoms of addiction like guilt, shame, resentments and insecurity—and started healing here once again. With that, the rest of my life began. It has been an amazing life in recovery and I've been blessed to be connected to Hazelden Betty Ford for almost a half-century now."
In addition to overseeing all interdisciplinary clinical practices and standards of care at Hazelden Betty Ford, Dr. Seppala serves as adjunct Assistant Professor at both the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science and the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies.
His recent research work includes a six-month outcome study of COR-12 published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment and an ongoing collaboration with Mayo Clinic to search for genetic markers that predict response to the medicine acamprosate, which has been shown to help people with alcohol use disorder stay sober. A similar study is now underway with Mayo Clinic to discover the genetic markers that predict response to buprenorphine so that the medicine can be used with more precision in the treatment of opioid use disorder.
The author of several books on addiction treatment, opioids and pain, Dr. Seppala also served as a board member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine for several years. He is a graduate of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and obtained his MD at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Rochester, Minnesota, serving his residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in addiction at University of Minnesota Hospitals in Minneapolis.
His career also includes past work with the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest in Portland, past service as a member of the Governor's Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs under Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and on the board of the Oregon Recovery High School Initiative, as well as current service on the board of Central City Concern—which helps people struggling with both homelessness and substance use disorders.
Dr. Seppala has testified before Congress, spoken to audiences across the country, and appeared as a guest on CBS's The Early Show, CNN, and National Public Radio, among many other broadcast news outlets. He also has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal. He is currently writing a memoir with a working title Loved Back that focuses on the science behind the healing power of love.
"Marv's vision and innovation never compromised the essence of Hazelden Betty Ford's conviction that treatment is fundamentally a series of steps along a pathway to recovery that must always embrace the mind, the body and the spirit," said William C. Moyers, Hazelden Betty Ford's vice president of public affairs and community relations. "Marv believes this professionally because he lives it personally. And his journey is forever intertwined in the legacy of this organization's rich history and where we are headed in the future."
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 mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which 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 HazeldenBettyFord.org and on Twitter.