This month’s Opioid Hero is Dr. Veronica Kelley! She became interested in making a difference in the substance use disorder (SUD) field after witnessing first hand through familial experience the toll that SUDs can have on one’s quality of life.

Dr. Kelley began her journey at Mount Saint Mary’s College where she earned her BS in Psychology and Child Development before earning her Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California and her Doctorate of Social Work from Capella University.  She then went on to join San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health eventually becoming the department’s director for 6 years. Currently, Dr. Kelley is the Behavioral Health Director of Orange County and serves as a board member for County Behavioral Health Directors Association and the Co-Chair for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Committee. She is also a Council Member to California Behavioral Health Planning Council, a board member to the California Mental Health Services Authority, and an associate member to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Opioid Hero of the Month: August 2022

Dr. Veronica Kelley

Dr. Leveroni is striving to bring what he learned and practiced during his residency in Lawrence to the community of Santa Ana. He is currently the medical director of the family medicine clinic at the UCI family health center in Santa Ana. The clinic is a residency clinic, serving as a training site for family medicine residents. When he first started at the clinic in September 2020, it did not offer MAT services. Since then they have built the program up and are now seeing and treating over 30 patients with opioid use disorders. Dr. Leveroni and the MAT team work to counsel patients and deliver MAT services.

One of the biggest challenges of treating patients with OUD is retention. To address this, Dr. Leveroni believes that it is the providers’ responsibility to keep the door open but not push patient’s through the door, or in other words to be available to support patients when they are ready. The clinic pushes to increase retention by including multidisciplinary support staff who are involved with following up and further consulting with
Dr. Leveroni’s efforts have allowed for the clinic’s retention of a steady stream of patients with OUD which has now opened the door to resident training in MAT services. Dr. Leveroni is at the forefront of developing a curriculum for training family medicine residents in MAT. He emphasizes that learning how to treat OUD involves a multi-faceted approach including medication, counseling, and motivational interviewing. In the short term, training residents in MAT will increase the scope of practice of physicians in the community of Santa Ana. But
perhaps a broader goal is that some of these residents will move on to other places where they will be able to spread their knowledge and practices to their future communities just as Dr. Leveroni has done for the community of Santa Ana.

Current Work

As Orange County’s Director of Behavioral Health, Dr. Kelley has the responsibility of ensuring the daily operations of the department are run smoothly. She oversees a team of 1,000 behavioral health staff working at the county Health Care Agency to deliver mental health and SUD treatment. Currently, she is working to make SUD and SUD treatment its own unique division in Orange County. Her big focus is to improve SUD prevention through early intervention, medication-assisted treatment, and after visit support. She has an additional emphasis on helping affected youth and assisting pregnant women to not relapse and to deliver drug free babies.

One of her goals is to increase the accessibility of preventative measures such as naloxone. In the past Dr. Kelley had an experience where she had difficulty picking up naloxone for a family member. The pharmacy she was at informed her they did not distribute naloxone and instead sent her over to a different pharmacy located in a lower income area. She believes that such an event highlights the stigma surrounding SUD and SUD treatment. She envisions that every patient who enters into Orange County’s clinics with a SUD will leave with a box of naloxone and the education on how to use the medication. In fact, she eventually hopes that everyone will carry naloxone with them. She informed us that she carries one in her purse at all times and has administered it numerous times for others. According to Dr. Kelley, the best way to distribute naloxone to those in need is at cultural community events. Oftentimes public events are where people feel most comfortable receiving education and SUD prevention materials. In addition to receiving naloxone at these events she emphasizes the importance of an associated face to face training in naloxone's proper use and storage as well as having the program spread out in a variety of languages.

Future Plans and Advice

Dr. Kelley believes that in order to better address SUD in our community, there needs to be a more diverse representation of people that work in the field. She states that there are many cultural differences in SUD that are best understood by members of those communities. Patients often feel more comfortable opening up and seeking help from members of their own communities. Dr. Kelley emphasizes a need for minorities, men, and members of LGBTQ to become behavioral health providers.

We would like to thank Dr. Kelley for the amazing work she has done for not only Orange County but for the State of California. We at SafeRxOC look forward to supporting her work in Orange County in the future.

Is there an Opioid Epidemic Hero in your community in Orange County? If so, let us know at!  We would love to include them in our series.