First Lady attends White House Opioids Summit, highlights efforts to eliminate shame and stigma of addiction

Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 3:30pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. – First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum today attended the White House Opioids Summit, which featured leaders from the Trump administration and Capitol Hill highlighting progress that’s been made to address the opioid crisis since the President declared it a public health emergency last October.

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, who moderated the summit, said Helgaas Burgum has inspired others with her personal story of recovery and invited her to speak about the need to destigmatize addiction. After expressing her gratitude to the administration for bringing together stakeholders and decision makers for the important conversation, Helgaas Burgum shared that having her own experience with alcohol addiction, she is grateful to be in recovery for 16 years now.

“And I know from personal experience how stigma prevents people from reaching out for help and talking about the disease of addiction,” she said. “If we can begin to normalize the conversation around (the) chronic brain disease of addiction and talk about it like we talk about other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, we can end the stigma.”

Helgaas Burgum highlighted North Dakota’s multimedia campaign “Dream Again,” launched last fall and designed to inform about the disease of addiction and eliminate stigma. She asked if the administration had considered any similar communications. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said they anticipate launching a mass multimedia campaign about the dangers of addiction and the fact it can affect anyone. 

President Trump in October declared the opioid crisis a Nationwide Public Health Emergency, opening up avenues to combat the crisis. The White House today outlined numerous steps being taken, including this week’s announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions of a new Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force that will focus on targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors who have contributed to the epidemic.

Conway moderated two panels: one focused on prevention, treatment and recovery, the other on law enforcement and interdiction. Panelists included Azar, Sessions, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Office of National Drug Control Policy Acting Director James W. Carroll, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

“I left today’s experience feeling inspired and energized to continue to focus on the detrimental effects of stigma for those struggling with addiction,” Helgaas Burgum said. “I am grateful for the courageous individuals who chose to share their personal stories of addiction and recovery at the White House Opioids Summit today; their openness breaks down the barrier of stigma and fosters a stronger, supportive culture of empathy around recovery.”

In January, Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order creating the Office of Recovery Reinvented to promote strategic and innovative efforts to eliminate the shame and stigma associated with the disease of addiction. For more information, go to recoveryreinvented.com/ 

Video of today’s White House Opioids Summit is posted at www.whitehouse.gov/live. Helgaas Burgum’s remarks begin at the 1:00:40 mark.