Mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment science was the topic of many speakers, as over 70 professionals gathered last week for the first ever conference on behavioral health care issues in Geauga County. The Ohio Drug Free Action Alliance, Ohio Association of County Behavioral Healthcare Authorities, Wright State University, and the Lorain County Board of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services all sent nationally known experts to offer keynote speeches and workshops. The Geauga County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services sponsored the event.
Much of the focus was on the opiate epidemic facing the nation. Marcie Seidel, the Executive Director of the Ohio Drug Free Action Alliance, started the day with a keynote address on the “State of the State” in addiction and drug abuse and prevention. She pointed out a recurring theme of the day, that prevention efforts should be more than a “just say no” message. Medical technology has allowed scientists to study the brain of individuals who are addicted to opiates and other drugs, and we now know that not only are some individuals more likely to become addicted due to their unique genetic structure, but also that the brain structure actually changes when a person is addicted. Seidel talked about the importance of having Naloxone available for opiate overdoses, a treatment that shuts down the actions of opiates on the body, often saving the life of someone overdosing, in just seconds.
Attendees also heard that science has studied how individuals respond to prevention messages and early intervention services. The Geauga County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services has several programs available that bring the science into daily practice. A panel of speakers from Big Brothers Big Sisters, Catholic Charities, Ravenwood Health, Lake-Geauga Recovery Centers, and Jim Adams, the Director of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, gave examples of evidence-based prevention programs currently in place and funded by the Board. Several programs mentioned target younger children, who benefit from early intervention programs. Studies show that children who receive these services at a young age have much lower rates of substance abuse than those not receiving intervention services.
The conference ended with the presentation of the “Roger Morris Helping Hand Volunteer Award for 2016”. The winner was Deborah Kowal, for her work with NAMI Geauga and individuals affected by mental illness. Deborah Kowal was nominated by NAMI Geauga this year for her volunteer work and dedication to the people of our mental health community. She has worked on behalf of NAMI visiting the behavioral health care unit at Geauga Hospital on a weekly basis to educate individuals and family members about the services and recovery opportunities that are available to them. Along with her other achievements, she is directly responsible for the development and facilitation of the weekly Peer to Peer Support Group in Chardon. Jim Adams, Director of the Geauga County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services, said this about her, “Deb seems to reach out in any way she can to help those in need. Her commitment to others is truly remarkable, and a testimony that there can be a happy and successful life, even with mental illness. If everyone could make a difference, like Deb does, then we will succeed on the greater mission of improving the lives of so many in Geauga County.”