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Hazelden Betty Ford intensifies its advocacy presence

April 15, 2015
by Gary A. Enos
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Leaders at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation believe that with their organization's growth has come added responsibility. As the most prominent nonprofit treatment entity in the nation, it can no longer afford to stay silent on critical issues affecting the health of the industry and those it serves, says the vice president of its newly launched Institute for Recovery Advocacy.

“We have been somewhat silent on mainstream topics even if they were related to the space we're in,” says Hazelden Betty Ford's Nick Motu. “We've shied away from controversy. We now have an obligation as the largest nonprofit to take a stand on controversial issues such as marijuana legalization.”

The institute, which officially kicked off on April 7, is designed to synergize the past efforts of Hazelden's Center for Public Advocacy and the Betty Ford Institute when the two treatment organizations were separate entities. Motu says the institute will take on a three-pronged strategy of public education, public policy advocacy and stigma reduction.

Plans involve identifying a single hot-button issue around which to circulate efforts each year, and this year's topic unmistakably is opioid addiction. Hazelden Betty Ford will sponsor two Washington. D.C., forums on the opioid crisis in 2015. At the first, on June 10, it will release results of a survey of 2,000 young people regarding their perceptions of opioids. The second forum, to be held in September or October, will focus on opioid prescribers, Motu says.

Leaders of the institute expect to shift gears in the direction of marijuana policy in 2016, when voters in a number of states could be considering marijuana legalization measures along the lines of initiatives that have been adopted in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon.

“Obviously, we have a biased view,” says Motu. “Some patients here are solely addicted to marijuana. We still view it as a gateway drug.”

Devoting resources

Motu explains that Hazelden Betty Ford is devoting substantial resources to this effort, with himself and three other full-time staff members focused on its activity and a committee of the board of directors overseeing the initiative.

A website will offer free access to videos, public policy information that will include status updates on relevant federal and state legislation, and a number of blogs. Motu believes that both professionals and the public will become regular visitors to the site. “Thirty percent of our web visitors are professionals now,” he says.

Motu adds that while Hazelden Betty Ford will continue to participate in advocacy activity spearheaded by other organizations around the country, its leaders did not feel it would suffice simply to attach its advocacy efforts to an existing national organization or other mechanism in the field. “We still felt as the largest nonprofit that we needed to have our own imprint,” Motu says. “We have so much value that we have not positioned in this way.”

For Motu, there is a personal connection to this effort. “This is really what I have gravitated to late in my career,” he says. He has been active in his own home community in Wisconsin, in a small town that experienced several deaths of young people from opioid overdoses and held community forums that led to the creation of a community toolkit to address the opioid crisis.