North Dakota first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum will host Fargo’s second “Recovery Reinvented” at the Fargo Civic Center. The event is set to be “a day focused on advocacy, building recovery support in communities, the brain science of the disease of addiction and eliminating the shame and stigma surrounding addiction,” according to a press release from Gov. Burgum.
Helgaas Burgum has been one of many advocating for addiction treatment and awareness. She has been public with her personal fight as a clean and recovering alcoholic.
Helgaas Burgum gave a speech titled “Eliminating the Shame and Stigma of Addiction” at last year’s TEDx conference in Fargo. She spoke broadly, covering her own issues stemming from abuse and the stories of those struggling with addictions to heroin and methamphetamine.
The event, scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 5 will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will include guest speakers Laurie Dhue, a national TV news anchor, David Mee-Lee, a psychiatrist with a history of working with addiction and many more.
During Recovery Reinvented, the governor and first lady will reward the winner of the $50,000 Innovative Recovery contest, a competition announced last year.
Trained professionals will also give lessons on how to use naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. Participants will receive a free dose of naloxone after the lesson.
The results of a first of its kind addiction stigma study will also be released at the event. The study will be a benchmark for measuring the next study.
One of the speakers, Jessica Hulsey Nickel could stir up some controversy ahead of the event. Some are raising questions over whether the president of Addiction Policy Forum should speak because of her organization’s public relationship with pharmaceutical companies. The Addiction Policy Forum has taken donations from drug companies that many partially blame for the opioid epidemic.
Nickel and the Addiction Policy Forum have been open about their acceptance of funds from large pharmaceutical groups. “No one has cured a disease by making an enemy of the white lab coats,” Nickel said in a New York Times interview.
Nickel came to Minnesota in February with a group of lobbyists from various drug companies during a debate on a new opioid tax. She said she would stay neutral on the tax and that she was only there to inform.
North Dakota state Sen. Chris Eaton said he “wasn’t buying” her neutral stance.
An exact number has not been given for how much money the Addiction Policy Forum receives from pharmaceutical companies. According to a New York Times interview, Stephen J. Ubl, the chief executive of pharmaceutical company PhRMA, said his company gave “tens of millions” in donations in the past few years.
Helgaas Burgum told the Bismarck Tribune she knows about the controversy, but said everyone should be allowed at the discussion. “You have to sometimes be willing to step into the fire,” Helgaas Burgum said.
Recovery Reinvented will come just days after Sen. John Hoeven announced $375,000 funding for drug abuse treatment programs has been awarded to Fargo, Wahpeton and Grand Forks.