First lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum hosted North Dakota’s second Recovery Reimagined at the Fargo Civic Center on Wednesday, Sept. 4. The event was held to bring together professionals in the areas of addiction counsel and recovery. The first couple of North Dakota spoke at the event along with five guest speakers.
The convention center was lined with health providers and experts offering help, guidance and education on addiction. Seating and space was taken up by the hundreds that showed up to hear information on recovery.
Theresa Rassel, a volunteer at the conference, told KVRR that she is a recovering alcoholic. According to Rassel, the disease ruined her marriage and career life. “No one chooses to be an alcoholic or any type of addict. It’s not like a young kid sits there and says, ‘I think I’m going to be an alcoholic when I grow up,’” Rassel said.
Joseph Schoning, a 16-year-old Native American, gave his perspective on addiction in the Native American community. “You are much more than the alcoholic and the addict. You are the soul and spirit that makes the Native American blood proud. You are the builders, creators, writers and superheroes of tomorrow’s comic books,” Schoning said during his speech.
The governor and first lady released results of a year-round study on North Dakota addiction and stigma. Gov. Doug Burgum said that around 60 percent of people in North Dakota have been or know someone who is a victim of substance abuse. “Good news is we have around 60 percent of the people who do believe it is a disease,” Gov. Burgum said.
According to the governor, this means they can start treating addiction through regular and “holistic” means. Gov. Burgum said the survey also shows that around one-third of North Dakotans think addiction is not a disease. “Those kinds of attitudes create shame, create a stigma that stop people from seeking help” or helping people with addiction, Gov. Burgum said. The governor hopes to move the state toward eliminating stigma around the issue of addiction.
To battle addiction “it takes a village,” first lady Burgum said. “It takes people collaborating together to find the solutions that work the best in industries, in corporations, in communities, in schools.”
“Nationally, we’re in a real big crisis with opioid addiction,” Gov. Burgum said. According to the governor, the overprescribing of highly addictive painkillers has led to the resurgence of dangerous street drugs like heroin and fentanyl. With 75,000 overdose deaths and 88,000 alcohol-related deaths, the governor compared the problem to a 747 Airbus crashing every day. Battling addiction will take many facets of the community to overcome, according to the first lady and Gov. Burgum.
Gov. Burgum commented on what role drug companies have in this fight against addiction. “Certainly there is a responsibility to companies that have marketed drugs that were highly addictive, and perhaps when marketing them didn’t indicate that they had that addictive quality.”
According to first lady Burgum, pharmaceutical companies could help by providing medical based treatments for the vast amounts of addicts.