Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law - University of Tulsa College of Law
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Health | Opinion
Mary Pember: Painkillers in Indian Country


"“Well, what can I get you today?” According to my cousin, this is the first question that Indian Health Service (IHS) doctors ask when you visit the clinic on her reservation in rural Wisconsin.

The question, she says, refers to medication, and unfortunately the answer is often a request for some form of painkiller. She reports that on her reservation in rural N. Wisconsin, nearly every family has been touched by abuse of prescription painkillers. She told me of folks being solicited to sell their drugs in the parking lot outside a health clinic, of people afraid to leave their homes lest drug seekers ransack their houses looking for painkillers, of robberies, beatings and worse, all as drug users seek narcotics. Sick with worry and heartbreak, she tells me of her own daughter’s struggle with prescription drugs. Unfortunately, I am hearing similar stories from friends and relatives throughout Indian Country.

According to a story in the Great Falls Tribune, tribal leaders are describing prescription drug misuse as epidemic. The same story reports some stunning data. According to James Melbourne, medical director for the Ft. Peck Tribes in Montana, the federal government pays an average of $15,000 per individual per year for prescription drugs on Indian reservations. I was unable to get a response from the Indian Health Service’s Press and Public Relations Office regarding this information."

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Painkillers ~ In Lieu of Indian Health Care (Daily Yonder 8/12)

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