By Jack Dura
In recent years, health professionals have seen a shift toward a new phrase: behavioral health.
“It’s definitely a population where there are some that are strictly mental health issues and some that are substance use disorders, but the systems really overlap a lot,” said Kurt Snyder, executive director of the Heartview Foundation.
Addiction is one overlying topic on the menu for North Dakota’s annual behavioral health conference taking place Wednesday to Friday. Three days of speakers and sessions will focus on the state’s justice reinvestment, medication-assisted treatment and opioid use in the state.
“A lot of what we’re going to be doing the first day is talking about the innovative and best practices going on in the state,” said Pamela Sagness, director of the State Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Health Division.
Aspects of addiction will be a part of that, such as overdoses.
“I think people often don’t realize who the individuals are at highest risk for having an overdose,” Sagness said.
Recently incarcerated persons and people who have experienced a recent overdose are such individuals, she said.
“We want to be vigilant,” she said.
From his perspective, Snyder said the Heartview Foundation takes advantage of the conference for staff and professional training. Twenty-two staff will attend, he said.
About 400 patients are active in Heartview’s services, including about 200 in opioid treatments, according to Snyder.
“All of those people are getting the medication-assisted treatment as a hand-in-glove approach with biopsychosocial treatment,” Snyder said. “They’re getting medication in combination with treatment services.”
Snyder lauded the state’s recent justice reinvestment and related emergent initiatives. State Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, said the efforts are important statewide.
“We shouldn’t be locking up individuals that need drug treatment,” she said. “We should be providing it in our local communities. Every community is affected right now.”
A part of that is women’s recovery, including babies born exposed to substance abuse, Sagness said.
“Criminalizing substance abuse during pregnancy doesn’t decrease the number of users. We recognize that addiction is a chronic disease, and we can’t punish our way out of it,” said Sagness, adding that allowing mothers and babies to be together during treatment is also an aim of such programming.
Sagness’ department has worked closely with first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum and her platform of recovery from addiction.
“Seventy-five percent of people in our prisons in North Dakota have an addiction,” the first lady said. “They have a disease; they don’t have a moral failing. They need treatment. They need support after incarceration.”
On Tuesday, Recovery Reinvented rolled out a slate of speakers and subjects on best practices in addiction treatment and related topics before the state conference delves into further subjects.
“You need to have that wide array of education, awareness, updates on what’s happening throughout the state,” Snyder said.
Professionals, including addiction counselors, social workers, behavior specialists and public health representatives, will be in attendance, Sagness said.
“It’s time for action,” she said. “All of us being able to come together to talk about strategy in a comprehensive way, that’s really key.”