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There were many events around the state to acknowledge the fact that addiction and mental health treatment can restore those with the disorders to a healthy life.

There is still a stigma for those with these diagnoses, which makes it hard for families to get help. For example, the Calvert Alliance Against Substance Abuse recently partnered with other county agencies to present a prescription drug abuse community forum. This event was well attended. Comcast was filming the event. One mother stated her unhappiness that the people speaking who have experienced this illness would be recorded. The stigma — we would not think this way for those diagnosed with diabetes.

The feeling of some of those at the community forum seemed to be that this is a hopeless situation, there is no help locally and treatment does not work.

It is imperative our community learn three things about addiction and mental health diagnoses: One, it is treatable. Two, it is a medical problem (not caused by poor morals). Three, there is help available locally.

Treatment? A mystery to most people. Using the diabetes example, those with this medical illness are not treated the same — not the same medication, not the same diet, some outpatient, some inpatient; it is a disease for life, must be managed for life, and some people with diabetes relapse. Not all medical practitioners treating diabetes are equal. The same is true with addiction and with mental illness. Treatment must be research-based, it must be individualized, some patients will not recover unless there is medication, some can see a doctor once or twice a month and others need inpatient or more frequent outpatient treatment.

The message we often hear from the community is that treatment does not work. They tell us of how many times their loved one has been in treatment only to fail. Treatment does work. If it did not work for their family member, it was not the right treatment for their specific diagnosis, the treatment provider was not a match for the patientís need or the patient did not remain in continuing care to learn how to manage their illness.

A medical problem? Yes, addiction and mental illness are brain diseases. The personís brain chemicals are not like those of people without the disorder. These brain chemicals drive the personís symptoms. It is not that the person is bad; they are ill.

If the person has become addicted to prescription medication, such as pain pills or anxiety pills, research has shown detox does not work. It does nothing to change the brain chemistry and there is a high relapse rate. In the case of both types of drugs, a medication must replace the one being abused, but it must be done carefully and by professionals specifically trained for this treatment.

Local treatment: The state is moving toward merging the health departmentís separated programs for addictions and mental health. Many addictions professionals are also mental health professionals. For now, the contact for mental health is Calvert County Health Department at 410-535-5400. For addictive illness, call Calvert County Health Department, Substance Abuse Services, at 410-535-3079, or call me at 410-535-8930.

This is an appeal for our community to see hope rather than hopelessness. Call addictions and mental health professionals in the county for help.

Carol M. Porto, Prince Frederick

The writer is the director of the Carol M. Porto Treatment Center.