New addiction treatment program at St. Luke’s Sacred Heart campus a 1st for Lehigh Valley

st. Luke’s University Health Network announced on Wednesday the opening of a new addiction treatment program in downtown Allentown.

The programme, officially titled St. Luke’s University Health Network Addiction Recovery Engagement, or SHARE, is located at the network’s Sacred Heart campus at 451 Chew St. in Allentown. The outpatient facility will utilize Medication Assisted Treatment in the area’s first integrated substance use recovery office.

While it’s certainly not the first addiction recovery facility in the area, what makes it different is that “this is a program that was devised with the vision of treating addiction within the context of a healthcare system,” said Dr. Robert Cannon, who specializes in medical toxicology and addiction medicine at the network. The medication that will be used to treat patients with opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder can prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol.

Initial conversations about starting the program took place around late 2020 and early 2021. Luke’s hired Cannon in July of 2021 specifically because of his experience with this type of work, and he came aboard to help develop the program.

The SHARE office is staffed by members of both St. Luke’s psychiatric and toxicology divisions, according to a press release from the health network, as well as a team of certified recovery specialists, physicians, addiction counselors, and case managers on site.

The plan from the beginning was to have the program in Allentown. “Transportation access to get to appointments is probably the number one barrier that patients, especially in the downtown Allentown area, have to really access high-quality treatment services,” Cannon said. It was of the utmost importance to bring the service to the people that might need it rather than the other way around.

The opioid crisis in particular looms large over the country, and Pennsylvania is no different. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania had the 8th-highest overdose death rate with 42.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020. The 42.4 mark is up from 8.1 in 1999. According to 2019 data from the state of Pennsylvania, Lehigh County was tied for the 12th most people with drug use disorder in Pennsylvania while Northampton County had the 14th-most.

The opening of this program comes on the heels of St. Luke’s merging with Bucks County-based Penn Foundation, which, according to the release, “is a nonprofit, community-based behavioral health provider with 25 behavioral health and substance use treatment programs that service about 20,000 individuals annually.”

Cannon said the merger with Penn was a big part of developing the infrastructure for SHARE, and it puts St. Luke’s ahead of the curve when it comes to the resources available for patients.

The SHARE office, which is open now, is open Monday to Friday.

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Connor Lagore may be reached at clagore@njadvancemedia.com.

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