After so many Zoom meetings in the past few years, the Washington Council for Behavioral Health (WCBH) has planned an in-person conference in Kennewick, June 15–16, at the Three Rivers Convention Center. This is particularly relevant as the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition (BFRC) is coordinating the planning of a recovery center in the Tri-Cities. Michele Gerber, Chair of the BFRC, will present a workshop at the Conference to discuss the work of the BFRC.

It is of interest that no providers of behavioral health services in the Tri-Cities region are members of the WCBH, a 38-member professional association of licensed community behavioral health agencies across the state of Washington. This is their 33rd annual conference. Maybe the conference will provide the occasion for local providers to network with other providers, many of whom are also not in the urban western part of the state. Hopefully, it will reinforce local efforts to reduce the number of overdose deaths, suicides, violent confrontations, and other sequelae of behavioral ill health.

The conference will provide presentations by nationally-recognized figures in the field and 35 workshops and discussions, focused on the current unprecedented support and recognition of the need for expanded access to behavioral health care. This will include community-based treatment, peer support services, and addressing structural racism throughout our communities and institutions. The conference provides academic credits for the workshops and keynote presentations. The keynote speakers are Maia Szalavitz, an expert on harm reduction with personal experience in this area; Nii Addy, Ph.D, a neuroscientist, Yale professor, and mental health advocate who will address racial disparities in mental health; and Nathaniel Morris, MD, a psychiatrist with expertise on mass incarceration and mental illness.

One of the best books on addiction I have read is Szalavitz’ Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction. Harm reduction is not a well-understood concept and this presentation should help us understand the idea better. Behavioral health generally refers to mental health and substance use disorders (SUD), life stressors and crises, and stress-related physical symptoms. Behavioral health care refers to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of these conditions. In my experience, about half of those in treatment for SUD have diagnosable mental illness, and about half of those with diagnosed mental illness have SUD.

Washington State has been slow to integrate care for these conditions. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services put separate departments for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders together only in 2020. They have yet to establish standards for care and licensure that cover both.

I will report on the Conference in next month’s Tumbleweird.

Psychologist Charles Eaton worked directly with heroin addicts, ran programs for the prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of Substance Use Disorders, and led Public Health programs for the prevention of HIV in drug injectors for more than forty years in NYC.