Lack Of Health Funding Led To Opioid Crisis On Reservations

Apr 16, 2018

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The opioid crisis has hit Native American communities harder than any other racial group in the country. Overdose deaths in Indian Country are 519 percent of the national average.

That's according to Sioux-St. Marie Member Stacy Bohlen of the Chippewa Tribe, the director of the National Indian Health Board. She said Indian Health Services is only funded at 50 percent of its need and only 30 percent of its staffing needs. When people go in for help managing pain, their care is often deferred until a later time.

“They may be given something to mitigate the pain and because of the lack of appropriate health care in Indian Country [that] can lead to longer-term use of opioids to fill the time until that person can receive the health care that they need,” she said.

Bohlen said tribes are paying a high cost for opioid addiction. 

“The cost to the tribes of policing, the judicial systems, the health care system, the crisis interventions, it’s just so exorbitant and in many cases, it’s crushing the tribes.”

It’s this high cost that led the Northern Arapaho Tribe to recently file a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. In the tribe’s complaint, they said, “Every member has been affected.”

Bohlen said, last month, the National Indian Health Board went before U.S. lawmakers to request direct funding, instead of competitive grants that pit tribes against each other for funding. They argued such funding could more vigorously fight the opioid crisis on reservations. Congress agreed, appropriating $50 million through their latest spending bill to help tribes combat the problem.