FARGO - In less than an hour, Dr. Drew Pinsky touched on addiction, trauma, brain science and faith-based programs, among other topics under the mental health umbrella, to kick off the North Dakota Behavioral Health Conference on Thursday, Sept. 6.

Pinsky, known for his reality TV show “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” gave the keynote address at the two-day conference. The conference traditionally draws about 200 to 300 people, but this year attendees topped 500, said Gov. Doug Burgum who introduced Pinsky.

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Pinsky began his address with a history lesson on the use of addicting drugs in the medical profession, pointing to a time when drugs such as heroin and cocaine were prescribed as painkillers. He said doctors now commonly prescribe benzodiazepines, such as valium or Xanax, to help treat mental health symptoms but could be found to be just as dangerous.

Despite the increase of treatment and research, Pinsky said stigma still surrounds addiction and mental health issues, especially among people who do not believe addiction is a disease.

“There are millions of people out there with very strong feelings that addiction is not a disease,” Pinsky said. “Addiction is a disease. Let’s make no mistake about that.”

The conference comes a day after North Dakota’s second Recovery Reinvented gathering, held in Fargo and hosted by first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, to focus on eliminating the stigma of addiction, brain science of addiction and recovery support.

Pinsky, a practitioner and former medical director for the Department of Chemical Dependency Services at Las Encinas Hospital in California, became famous with the radio show, “LoveLine,” which later became a TV show on MTV. Pinsky is also known for his work on the reality show “Teen Mom OG.”

Pinsky said he became involved with “Teen Mom OG,” which follows the lives of pregnant 16-year-olds, because he knew it would make an impact on teen pregnancy rates. “I’m always trying to create media that creates change,” he said.

Pinsky also showed support for “mutual-aid societies” such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and faith-based programs that he said are shown to help recovery.  

The conference continues through Friday, Sept. 7, with breakout sessions covering a range of topics, from addiction to post-traumatic stress disorder to multicultural differences in addressing mental health.