Despite its smallness, North Dakota's population and caring instincts are assets for recovery from addiction.
So says first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, whose platform of addiction treatment and recovery rolls out Recovery Reinvented on Tuesday. The event will bring together speakers and professionals over topics ranging from sober living to Native American recovery to re-entry into the workforce after incarceration.
"We thought we could get started right away on the addiction issues in our state, just starting down the path of talking about addiction as a disease and not a moral failing," Helgaas Burgum said.
In recovery for 15 years, the first lady added that she and Gov. Doug Burgum wanted to work together with others to reduce the shame and stigma often associated with addiction.
Pamela Sagness, director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services' Behavioral Health Division, agreed.
"I think the key conversation around that is every community can be doing something, and part of that is reframing the way we think about recovery and treatment," she said.
From the state's prisons, where 75 percent of inmates have addiction, to rural communities lacking big city resources, Helgaas Burgum said Tuesday's event will address treatment efforts down to the individual level.
"We have a culture of caring about our neighbors," Sagness said. "That's actually a protective factor. A lot of rural areas have the benefit of that connectiveness."
Peer support services, connecting with local faith organizations and educating small communities about outside resources are all possible, Helgaas Burgum and Sagness concurred.
"It's so important that we also connect with our faith communities in being part of that recovery support," Sagness said.
"The church could become that resource for peer-to-peer support," Helgaas Burgum said. "They can really in their community do a lot to reduce the shame and stigma."
On the state side of things, every agency is making some effort to improve treatment practices, according to Sagness, adding, as an example, that Game and Fish and Parks and Recreation are addressing drug use on their lands.
The health department and state corrections are taking obvious steps, she also said, but so is the National Guard on improving behavioral health care for military families.
"It's something that is completely cross-cutting, and every agency has every opportunity to be part of the solution," Sagness said.
Helgaas Burgum has ventured outside North Dakota, studying addiction resources in Arizona, Vermont, Kentucky and elsewhere to examine progress.
"We like to look at those best practices," she said.
Recovery Reinvented is an appetizer of sorts to the state's annual behavioral health conference, running Wednesday to Friday. Sagness said the two events go hand in hand for behavioral health professionals, particularly with principles and practices that Recovery Reinvented will highlight.
About 800 people had registered for Recovery Reinvented as of Friday, with space limited once the number approaches 1,000.
"Every individual has the opportunity to become an advocate for recovery and talking about the disease of addiction," Sagness said.
Recovery Reinvented is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Bismarck Event Center. Participants may register online at recoveryreinvented.com.