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Bill O'Boyle: Pennsylvanians reminded of mental health resources during holiday season

Times Leader - 12/23/2018

Dec. 23--WILKES-BARRE -- Members of the Wolf Administration this week spoke in the state Capitol Rotunda to share resources and advice for individuals and families affected by mental health and substance use disorders (SUD) during the holiday season.

"This time of year is hard for many people and for varying reasons. During this holiday season, I urge all Pennsylvanians to be kind to one another and help to break stigma associated with SUD," said Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jennifer Smith. "In doing so, we can give individuals the courage to seek the help and resources they need and so desperately deserve. Whether you are in recovery, seeking treatment for the first time, or need information on how you can help or support a loved one's journey, there are resources available throughout the holiday season."

DDAP maintains a toll-free helpline that connects callers looking for treatment options for themselves or a loved one to resources in their community. You can reach the Get Help Now helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The helpline is available 24/7 -- including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. An anonymous chat service offering the same information to individuals who may not be comfortable speaking on the phone is also available at www.ddap.pa.gov.

Additionally, the Wolf Administration recently announced the launch of the Drug and Alcohol Referral Tool, a website designed to help Pennsylvanians seeking SUD treatment resources for themselves or a loved one.

"Remember your support system, and do not hesitate to use them if needed. If you are alone and cannot access your support system, the Get Help Now helpline can also be an ally," Smith said. "Helpline employees are trained professionals who understand the sensitivity of an individual in a crisis and the complexity of the drug and alcohol system. They will remain on the line with the caller until treatment and resources have been identified and a warm hand-off with a facility or provider has been made."

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (or NAMI), extra stress, sentimental memories, or unrealistic expectations can lead to the holiday blues. One in five adults suffers from a mental illness in America, with 64 percent of people saying they were affected by the holiday blues.

"The holiday season can also be stressful for many, and people who experience feelings of anxiety or depression may feel this more during this time," said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. "If you or a loved one are suffering from mental illness or are experiencing feelings like this for the first time, know that you are not alone. Make time for yourself as much as you can, surround yourself with people who love and support you, and if you need extra help, resources are available to help you."

If you or someone you love is in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by calling 1-800-273-8255. The hotline is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who can offer free, confidential support. Help can also be accessed through the Crisis Text Line by texting "PA" to 741-741.

"With the festive holiday season upon us, it is not uncommon for the holiday blues to creep up on many people, but particularly on the elderly population," said Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne. "In addition to looking out for signs, including sadness, inactivity, loss of interest or appetite, or increased alcohol consumption, it's important to take some time to make sure our elderly loved ones are safe and staying active."

Mental health services are coordinated at a local level by county mental health and developmental services offices. They can determine the appropriate program for an individual's unique situation and needs. More information about these offices and their locations can be found at www.dhs.pa.gov.

The holidays may also be difficult for individuals in recovery, especially if they become stressed by changes to their schedule or daily routine, have strained or non-existent relationships with family members, or are faced with potential triggers while attending holiday parties and other celebrations. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most dangerous time of the year for substance use and alcohol-related deaths are around the holiday months. The Wolf Administration encourages all Pennsylvanians to take advantage of the standing order to obtain Naloxone over the holidays.

"Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose," Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. "After the success of 'Stop Overdoses in Pa: Get Help Now Week,' we realize that Pennsylvanians are dedicated to helping to save lives of not only their loved ones, but also anyone who has overdosed. Naloxone is available at many local pharmacies without a prescription through the standing order written in 2015."

Families can support their loved ones in recovery by limiting their drinking or other substance use, properly disposing of old and unwanted prescription medication, and by creating a welcoming, safe, and compassionate environment. This includes respecting what a loved one may or may not want to talk about, avoiding rehashing old problems, and being understanding if your friend or family member needs to remove themselves from a triggering situation.

For more information on treatment options in Pennsylvania, county-based resources, and the Wolf Administration's efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, visit www.pa.gov/opioid.

DePasquale welcomes plan to ease

challenges facing public pensions

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week said he welcomes a plan proposed by the state's Public Pension Management and Asset Investment Review Commission to help the state's two public pension systems, each of which are less than 60 percent funded.

"I applaud the commission for developing ways to save nearly $10 billion over 30 years," DePasquale said. "These proposed reforms will help to make sure these pension systems can meet their obligations to retirees while reducing the billions of dollars in fees being gobbled up by fat cats on Wall Street."

The bipartisan commission's report follows a seven-month review of the investment expenses and returns of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS), which covers school employees, and the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS).

Both retirement systems are under financial strain. PSERS, with 486,000 members, has an unfunded liability of approximately $44.5 billion. SERS, which has more than 239,000 members, has an unfunded liability of $19.7 billion.

"The most alarming thing to come from the report is that PSERS spent an outrageous $1.032 billion on investment costs and expenses in fiscal 2016-17," DePasquale said. "Not only is that amount much higher than previously reported, it actually exceeds the total amount of money that public school employees put into the plan over the course of the year.

"As has happened before, Wall Street continues to rob us blind. We're talking about money that should be securing the future of our dedicated public servants, not disappearing into the pockets of ultra-wealthy money managers who routinely gamble with our nation's economic future."

Learn more at www.paauditor.gov.

AG supports discussion

on marijuana legalization

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale this week said he welcomes Gov. Tom Wolf's statement that Pennsylvania should "take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana" legalization. Wolf made the statement while answering constituent questions via Twitter.

"Pennsylvania should join the growing numbers of states that are adopting a common-sense approach to marijuana," DePasquale said. "Numerous Pennsylvania cities have already started to decriminalize possession and the state has already approved medical marijuana. It's time for the General Assembly to have a serious discussion about taking the next step."

DePasquale, who was Pennsylvania's first statewide elected official to support the legalization of recreational marijuana, highlighted the potential economic benefits of legalization in a July special report.

"Regulating and taxing marijuana would bring in at least $580 million in revenue annually," DePasquale said. "Beyond simply helping to balance the budget, this new revenue could be used to bolster opioid treatment and provide greater access to health care for veterans and children."

DePasquale's 14-page special report said that an average of 8.38 percent of Pennsylvania's adults (21 and older), or nearly 800,000 people, currently use marijuana at least monthly.

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

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(c)2018 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

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