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Opioid crisis, mental health issues focus of WCCC conference

Tribune-Review - 11/17/2017

Nov. 17--The leader of a national mental health advocacy organization and a recent Emmy Award-winning producer will participate in a conference at Westmoreland County Community College focused on mental health and substance use issues.

Paul Gionfriddo, national president and chief executive officer of Mental Health America, and David Solomon of WQED will speak at the Nov. 28 conference and workshops organized by MHA's Southwestern Pennsylvania organization, according to its executive director, Laurie Barnett Levine.

While the program is aimed toward behavioral health professionals, attorneys, academic faculty and physicians involved in mental health and substance use fields, Levine said the public and area students can attend the conference, which begins at 8:30 a.m. in the college's science hall.

"It is aimed at educating attendees about the pressing issues regarding the current state of substance use and mental health in the region. We feel it's very timely in view of the ongoing opioid epidemic in this region," Levine said.

Gionfriddo and Solomon, executive producer of the documentary "Before Stage Four: Confronting Early Psychosis," participated in a similar discussion last month before a Congressional panel in Washington, D.C.

Solomon's 30-minute public television documentary features University of Pittsburgh brain research that could help predict which teens will become psychotic so that families can intervene early. It will be screened at 7 p.m. A panel discussion with Gionfriddo and Solomon will follow.

"It's the first community screening of the documentary in this area," Levine noted.

In 2014, Gionfriddo wrote "Losing Tim. How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia." He was part of Solomon's documentary.

Gionfriddo has long been an advocate of the philosophy that substance use and mental health issues should be treated before they reach the critical "Stage 4", Levine said, "much as professionals treat the early symptoms of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes."

Levine noted the conference is reflective of the name change last spring from MHA Westmoreland County to MHA Southwestern Pennsylvania to recognize the needs of communities beyond the county's borders, particularly in light of recent statewide funding cuts.

Other participants include:

--Mark Fuller, chief executive officer of Value Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania, who will discuss opioid use disorders and abuse treatment, as well as factors that have contributed to the problem;

--Marci Sturgeon-Rusiewicz, a licensed professional counselor, and doctoral candidate of counseling psychology, will speak about working with young adults experiencing first-episode psychosis, and

--Patty Schake, Deborah Wasilchak, and Tracy Carney, all of Community Care Behavioral Health, a nonprofit, recovery-focused behavioral health managed care company involved in mental health and substance abuse services.

Tim Phillips, executive director of the Westmoreland County Drug Overdose Task Force, will serve as panel discussion moderator.

Conference and registration information is available at .

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860, or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.


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