Integrating addiction services into primary care

Sparks Foundation supports Addiction Alliance of Georgia Collaboration with Grady Health System
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ATLANTA, GA (April 15, 2022) – With support from a $350,000 grant from the John and Polly Sparks Foundation, the Addiction Alliance of Georgia—a partnership of Emory Healthcare and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation—will work with the Grady Health System and other community partners to integrate additional substance use disorder services into Grady's primary care clinics.

"The addiction crisis in Atlanta and across Georgia and the nation has grown worse amid the pandemic, increasing the urgency to identify and help people who are struggling with substance use in every possible setting, including primary care clinics," said Justine Welsh, MD, medical director of the Addiction Alliance of Georgia and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine. "All of us at The Addition Alliance of Georgia is very excited to work with Grady to intensify our collective response to the public health problem of addiction."

The Sparks Foundation previously funded the launch of an Integrated Care Program for Behavioral Health in the Grady Health System, which includes a large hospital and several neighborhood health clinics serving a diverse socioeconomic population in Atlanta. The new grant will build on that program by integrating peer recovery coaches from the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse into Grady's primary care teams, expanding medication for addiction treatment services throughout the Grady system, and educating all involved on best practices for effective collaboration.

"This generous grant and our work with the Addiction Alliance of Georgia will allow us to accelerate our efforts to reach even more patients and community members to address the growing problem of addiction in our region and beyond," said Grayson Norquist, MD, chief of Psychiatry Service, Grady Health System and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine.

"We are deeply grateful to the Sparks Foundation for empowering this project and helping the Addiction Alliance of Georgia fulfill in its commitment to reaching racially and economically diverse communities, including Atlanta's unsheltered population, which Grady serves," added Dr. Welsh.

Working with experts from the Addiction Alliance of Georgia, primary care providers and peer recovery coaches at Grady will receive extensive training in motivational interviewing; trauma, mental health and substance use disorders; stigma and bias; medications for opioid use disorder; and more. Professional learning communities for peer coaches and other members of the care team will meet regularly for problem-solving and discussion to build upon and sustain the recovery knowledge developed.

"A lot of primary care patients are reluctant to seek help for addiction and mental health issues, which often are at the root of whatever brought them to the hospital or clinic in the first place. They distrust the healthcare system when it comes to such issues and fear stigma, while also fearing the unknown of what help and recovery might look like," said Stephen Delisi, MD, medical director for Hazelden Betty Ford's professional education continuum solutions division. "Our goal with this grant is to not only bring additional services and capacity to Grady's system but to instill comfort and confidence in the primary care teams that will ultimately translate into compassionate conversations that lead to more hope, healing and help for patients."

The new recovery-oriented, integrated program will make a significant difference at Grady, where in 2019 alone, 8,195 patients seen in the outpatient setting had a documented alcohol or other substance use disorder.

In addition to funding for the Addiction Alliance of Georgia, the Sparks Foundation also recently gave a gift to the Emory Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences to support its Infant Mental Health Program and training for child and adolescent psychiatrists.

For more information on the Addiction Alliance of Georgia, please visit

About the Addiction Alliance of Georgia

Utilizing the experience and strengths of two national health care leaders, Emory Healthcare and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the Addiction Alliance of Georgia is a comprehensive partnership dedicated to reducing substance-use-disorder rates; improving recovery rates; and bringing hope, healing and health to more people and families throughout Georgia and beyond. Founded in 2020, the Alliance integrates addiction treatment and co-occurring mental health care, education, prevention, outreach and research, collaborating with government agencies, concerned donors and partners throughout the larger community.

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

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.