By Jack Dura
North Dakota’s rank of No. 1 on lists for binge drinking shouldn’t be a source of pride, according to the state’s first lady on Tuesday.
“The culture of drinking is worn like a badge of honor in our state rather than a cause for alarm,” first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum told a crowd of about 1,000 people gathered at Recovery Reinvented. The event rolled out as her platform derived from her experience of 15 years in recovery from drinking.
She and Gov. Doug Burgum opened the day with remarks on state impacts of addiction. From 75 percent of state prisoners with an addiction, to Native American infants born addicted to meth, to felony records impacting inmates’ re-entries into society, the effects of addiction brought together speakers who challenged punitive methods, including incarceration.
“If we are to succeed in reinventing recovery from addiction, we will only do so if we commit ourselves to recovery advocacy,” said William Moyers, of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
Moyers also addressed public and political misperceptions of addiction, generated in part from centuries of poor media portrayals.
“Nobody ever got well with this illness,” he said. “We died.”
Holly Sherman and Sharon Weber, longtime friends who met in sober living, spoke about their founding The Haven at College, a sober living facility at the University of Southern California.
“Sober living is where you test your discipline and change your habits,” Sherman said.
The pair also spoke about stereotypes of addiction.
“We were taught from a very early age that alcoholics don’t look like us,” said Weber, referencing the stereotypical old man under a bridge with a bottle in hand.
Mark Holden, of Koch Industries, also addressed an arm of recovery: re-entry into society after incarceration as employment prospects are hurt by former inmates’ felony records.
Prison and re-entry reforms are crucial, Holden said.
“The only metric that matters is recidivism,” he said.
Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin, who attended Tuesday’s event, said law enforcement has a direct role in the topics at hand.
“We enforce the law, but we are compassionate as human beings,” he said. “We’re a cog, a mechanism that can assist people, not to judge.”
While opioids have been at the forefront of the addiction crisis, alcohol and other drugs remain deadly as well, he said.
“They all kill, they all destroy lives,” Donlin said.
During the event, the Burgums awarded recovery advocates and made announcements including A Day for Prevention set for April 11 and a $280,000 grant program for opioid assistance services in tribal communities.
They also announced Free Through Recovery, from the state’s justice reinvestment through $7 million allocated for recovery services.
“We’re short of licensed addiction counselors across the state. We’re particularly short in the west,” the governor said. “There is an opportunity again for peer-to-peer counseling certification. Someone with lived experience, someone who has the disease of addiction, someone who’s in recovery who gets the training and certification, they can be a huge help to people trying to move forward with their lives.”
Private investment in recovery, public-private partnerships and new funding sources are also potentials on the horizon, he said.
The couple also announced a $50,000 prize competition for the best innovative business approach to recovery services.
“We’re hoping to see a lot across the whole range of recovery,” Burgum said.
“I think people are looking for starting businesses where they can make a difference,” the first lady said. “They just don’t want to make a widget or a product. It’s social entrepreneurship that’s really important.”