By Sydney Mook
The governor’s office announced the new Office of Recovery Reinvented on Tuesday, Jan. 9. The office, which was created through an executive order, aims to promote “strategic and innovative efforts to eliminate the shame and stigma associated with the disease of addiction.”
“The disease of addiction is a significant yet often unmeasured cost that impacts the delivery of government services, from health and human services to corrections, education and more,” Burgum said in a statement. “To reinvent government, we must comprehensively reinvent how we approach the disease of addiction. The Office of Recovery Reinvented will help catalyze our strategic efforts to strengthen recovery services and eliminate the shame and stigma of addiction.”
First lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, who has previously shared her own experience with addiction, will chair an advisory council of up to seven members that will guide the efforts. The council, which will be appointed by the governor, will include individuals in recovery, behavioral health professionals and community members, including tribal leaders.
Helgaas Burgum said she had been thinking about a way to “formalize” advocacy around the topic of addiction for some time before the office was created. While there are departments like behavioral health, which address the issue in some way, she said, “There’s no one really that’s really able to spend their full time on advocating for eliminating the shame and stigma for the disease of addiction.”
“This is really the opportunity for us to formalize that process and legitimize it related to how important it is for the governor and I,” Helgaas Burgum said.
The ultimate goal of the office is to reduce and eliminate the “shame” and “stigma” associated with addiction, Helgaas Burgum said. She noted that many years ago when women were first being diagnosed with breast cancer there was a shame and stigma surrounding it; today that is not the case.
“When you see a cowboy wearing a pink shirt at a rodeo, you know exactly why he’s wearing a pink shirt,” she said. “We need to have people thinking about the disease of addiction in the same way. … Because we’re a really small state that has amazingly caring people we should be able to make a huge difference in eliminating the shame and stigma.”
Additionally, Helgaas Burgum said she would like to start working with middle schools, high schools and colleges across the state to potentially create a statewide youth council on the topic. The council would include the state’s tribal communities as well.
“We have a lot of wonderful tools that are offered now through our behavioral health group, but the problem is they don’t have a lot of people to help them market those tools,” she said. “If more of those tools were used in our middle schools and high schools and even at the collegiate level, we might be able to save lives.”
The Office of Recovery Reinvented will not use general fund allocations for operations, programming or staffing. The office will be funded through philanthropic support as well as monetary and in-kind donations. Mike Nowatzki, spokesman for the governor, said around $51,500 of Burgum’s salary, the amount paid before a new law was enacted last July 1 that allowed the governor to decline a salary, will be donated to the office.