Map of the US highlighting North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. (March 10, 2016) – Home to the exact geographical center of North America, the state of North Dakota is also center to a new program aimed at giving more people access to education in behavioral healthcare. Students in addiction treatment will receive relief of their loan payback for up to five years.

The state’s Legislature provided funds to establish the program, which also extends to clinical psychologists, licensed professional counselors, licensed social workers, psychiatric nurse specialists and registered nurses practicing in the area of behavioral health. The Health Department, which contracts with the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, created the program to increase the number of providers in the industry.

This comes after some say a shooting in Fargo last month highlighted a need for mental health care. Officer Jason Moszer was gunned down after responding to a barricade situation in the city. The man accused, Marcus Shumacher, had allegedly been experiencing mental health problems, which could have contributed to his actions that night.

Marcus Shumacher
Marcus Shumacher
Officer Jason Moszer
Officer Jason Moszer

In the United States, there’s a growing consensus that the mental health system is failing us, and stories like this are all too common. On a federal level, 8 Democrats and 7 Republicans have sponsored the Mental Health Reform Act, which would ease privacy laws to let families learn more about the condition of a person with mental illness. It would also restructure mental health programs, elevating them to importance, and change the reimbursement systems so that hospitals could provide more psychiatric beds.

The bill has also won the endorsement of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which Vertava Health has participated in numerous events with. It’s unknown whether or not lawmakers in North Dakota support the bill.

Forum News reported that in the last week before the shooting, Marcus had “finally agreed with his family’s pleas to get inpatient help.” Allegedly, they called mental health facilities in several nearby areas and were told there were no openings unless he was a harm to himself or others.

Mental Healthcare is not the only issue affecting North Dakota. State troopers conducted the largest meth bust in their history just last week. A community survey in Fargo found 66% of people in the area know someone affected by addiction, and that’s just those that admit to it.

The number of federal charges related to heroin has soared in the past few years, and overdose deaths increased 125% in the past year. Police arrested 6 people yesterday morning in a drug bust in South Fargo and a deadly form of heroin that hit Chicago last year (China White) has now raised an alarm in Williston. An alleged gang member of the Vice Lords of Chicago was arrested in the city along with 5 others after a heroin ring contributed to one death and 9 overdoses in February. Towns like Williston, which benefited from North Dakota’s economic boom of the oil industry, are an ideal city to sell in.

China White

Police believe China White, a pure heroin laced with Fentanyl, is responsible for the overdoses. We’ve seen this all across the country, and interviewed with several media outlets on the topic. We all know heroin can be deadly, but when laced with this powerful painkiller, the odds of an overdose are much greater – almost guaranteed. Drug dealers are not only fearless of this, they are banking on it. Several officials in multiple states have said they believe dealers are using the deaths as a marketing tool to draw attention to the areas where they sell.

In a mind not under attack by addiction, the average person thinks to stay away from a certain drug because it’s deadly. In the addict’s mind, it is the ring to rule them all – the good stuff, the ultimate high. North Dakota has access to Naloxone, a known antidote to heroin overdose, in its pharmacies, but currently does not have a Good Samaritan Law. These laws allow people under the influence or in possession of a drug immunity if they report an overdose to get someone help.

A number of factors play into what must be done in our country to reduce the highest overdose rates in the past decade. It takes laws that expand addiction treatment and hold insurance companies accountable to cover costs they promise to cover. It takes education and awareness. It takes Naloxone distribution. It takes Good Samaritan Laws. It takes incentives for those in the addiction treatment industry. It takes incentives for treatment facilities to bring beds to the area. It takes a safe environment without fear of prosecution. It takes the decriminalization of minimal possession charges and a crack down on the arrest of predatory dealers. It takes an understanding that addiction is a treatable disease and not a criminal activity. Most of all, it takes hope, and that’s something Vertava Health has in abundance.

Vertava Health participates in American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Day on the Hill in Tennessee
Vertava Health participates in American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Day on the Hill in Tennessee
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