Phoebe and Aspire Host Addiction Forum

Staff Report From Albany CEO

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

The opioid epidemic has not been as severe in south Georgia as in much of the country over the last few years, but the problem is increasing dramatically in our region.  It is a healthcare crisis that is claiming lives at an alarming rate and costing our state millions of dollars each year.
Thursday night, Phoebe and Aspire Behavioral Health and Disability Services hosted a community forum to shine a light on the problem and encourage people to take an active role in finding solutions.  Community leaders and concerned citizens packed the Flint Riverquarium Imagination Theater for “Breaking the Silence:  An Addiction Epidemic Town Hall.”
They heard from medical experts and a politician leading the effort to pass legislation to curb the opioid crisis, but the most moving presentation came from an opiate addiction survivor.  Ryan Layfield told the crowd he began experimenting with drugs as a high school student and discovered opioids when he was attending the University of Georgia.  “It was something that I had never tried before, and when I did, I became addicted pretty much instantly,” Layfield said.  “That one time led to years of struggling.”
Layfield eventually progressed from taking pills to injecting heroin.  “I ended up living in a vacant house in Atlanta.  I was a homeless heroin addict panhandling for money,” Layfield said.  “I burned every relationship I ever had to the ground.”
After several failed attempts in rehab, Layfield ended up in Albany at The Anchorage, a Christian-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.  It was there that he finally found the strength to face his addiction and overcome it.  He has been sober for nearly four years and now has a successful career in digital media sales.
Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), who chairs the Georgia Senate Health & Human Services Committee, praised our community for its resources and commitment to addressing the addiction epidemic.  “You’re doing much better offering help to drug addicts in Dougherty County than we’re doing in metro Atlanta,” Unterman said.  “In my home county, Gwinnett County, we don’t have the recovery services that you have here.”
Unterman hailed Graceway Recovery Residence for Women and its for-profit business The Bread House and Granary which provides jobs for women in recovery and raises money for Graceway.  “That is a model that we should replicate around this state,” Unterman said.
She highlighted legislation the General Assembly has passed in recent years aimed at addressing the opioid crisis, and she promised more action next year.  “I’ve been focused on this issue for three years,” Unterman said.  “2018 will be my fourth year of trying to find solutions to this problem, and it will be a top priority in the upcoming legislative session.”
Unterman’s Senate colleague, Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson), and Phoebe President & CEO Joel Wernick welcomed the crowd to the forum.  Phoebe Emergency Services Medical Director Dr. Eddie Black then gave a presentation on the scope of the addiction problem nationwide and in Georgia.  He shared that opioid overdose deaths nationwide skyrocketed from 6,242 in 2000 to 33,091 in 2015.  The overall number of overdose deaths that year was 52,404.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia had the 13th highest number of overdose deaths in 2015 at 1,345.
Phoebe Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse Manager Brittany Berry talked about the effects on babies born to mothers who are addicted to drugs.  The number of babies born with addiction symptoms in the Southwest Public Health District grew from 4 in 2011 to 51 in 2016.
A presentation by Aspire Psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Sun focused on the science of addiction.  He stressed that some people with a genetic predisposition can become addicted to drugs the first time they try them.