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Our View: First lady's efforts good for North Dakota

Herald editorial board

North Dakota's first lady isn't shying away from a real problem in North Dakota, and her efforts could help ease a crisis in the state.

Kathryn Helgaas Burgum is hoping to spark a grassroots campaign with a new conference on addiction that gets started today in Bismarck. It's called "Recovery Reinvented," and it will focus on addiction, recovery, criminal justice reform and sober living. The event will include state and nationally recognized speakers who have employed innovative recovery efforts.

She hopes it will become an annual event.

This can't be easy for Helgaas Burgum. You see, she is a recovering addict, and it must be difficult discussing a personal issue that so many would rather keep private. Earlier this year, she publicly noted that she has been in recovery for 15 years for alcohol addiction.

In a report published last week in the Herald, she said she has been hearing from people who have sought treatment because they have been hearing other people talk about addiction. People "I guess like me," she said.

There are all sorts of addiction troubles facing North Dakotans. Anyone paying attention to the news lately knows that opioid addiction has reached a crisis in the state. All addiction is worrisome and deserves attention, but it's important to not lose track of more traditional addictions—among them alcohol—as recent attention moves toward more contemporary troubles.

Heroin and meth are taking over headlines, but alcohol is still the No. 1 substance reported by adults receiving treatment through the state's regional human service centers. Helgaas Burgum said that 75 percent of North Dakota prison inmates have some sort of addiction.

That's why it's so important—and touching—that the first lady is openly talking about her own troubles with alcohol. Her efforts will, over time, bring results.

"I think people in recovery traditionally have been worried about what people would think or how it might affect their jobs," she said. "If people start talking about it like it's a disease, then other people will be encouraged to do the same."

It's not just about alcohol, but about all addiction in North Dakota.

Meanwhile, today's conference is expected to draw upwards of 700 attendees to the Bismarck Events Center. Helgaas Burgum hopes it will be "a great way for us to start down the path of helping to reduce the shame and stigma surrounding addiction."

Actually, the first lady—showing a combination of bravery and leadership—already has started the state down that path.