ND First Lady’s campaign much needed

This week, North Dakota First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum spoke at both Minot State University and at Minot’s Recovery Empowered event, about addiction recovery support. Her message was an important one – calling for public discourse to eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction.

Burgum’s key point was that eliminating the stigma of addiction is a key to combating the plague which has affected North Dakota as well as the rest of the nation.

“The basis of my advocacy is encouraging everyone to talk about addiction and how it has impacted their lives,” she said at the Recovery Empowered event. “Talk will eliminate the elephant in the room and will normalize the conversation around addiction. If we do this the stigma will be eliminated, and more people will reach out for help, seek treatment and find recovery.”

Stigma is socially constructed, based in fear and often accompanied by lack of accurate information, she said.

“I believe addiction needs to be embraced like any other chronic, progressively fatal disease or illness before real changes can be made in our communities and before we can totally eliminate the shame and stigma,” Burgum said. “A starting point is to eliminate stigma by reframing addiction as a public health issue rather than a moral failing. Addiction is not a choice. It’s not a character flaw, and it does not discriminate.”

These are key points. By now, even government entities and law enforcement in many places are addressing addiction more as a health issue than a moral and criminal one. Reformers regularly call for a treatment model instead of merely a criminal justice issue, and they are finding supporters in influential positions.

Count Burgum among those. She has been a passionate and tireless supporter of the cause and has bravely shared her own recovery story in the process.

This is a critical discussion that has the potential to affect countless individuals, their friends and family, the economy, the cost of law enforcement and the judicial system and multiple other aspects of society today. It’s an issue in need of much attention and the bright lights of public discourse.

That’s exactly Burgum’s goal.

A hearty thanks to the First Lady for her leadership on this subject and all of those who hope and pray for a better tomorrow.