Federal officials, including President Donald Trump himself, are indeed taking notice. Secretary Ryan Zinke met with eight tribes in Washington, Wisconsin and Arizona in the last few weeks to learn how the Department of the Interior can help them address the epidemic. “While the opioid crisis affects every community in America, more often than not, tribal communities are disproportionately affected,” Zinke said after a visit in Washington with the Spokane Tribe. On the legal front, the Department of Justice intends to boost tribal, state and local efforts by filing a statement of interest in court on behalf of the United States. “We will seek to hold accountable those whose illegality has cost us billions of taxpayer dollars,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Tribes have made no secret about seeking “financial resources,” as Lac du Flambeau President Wildcat put it, to help them address the costs of the crisis. By being at the table with lawsuits, they hope to avoid what happened in the 1990s, when states entered into a master settlement agreement with the tobacco industry but left Indian Country out of the picture. That deal was worth at least $206 billion but tribes don't get any of the funds. “This lawsuit is part of our tribe’s effort to combat the opioid crisis that not only harms tribal members, but puts great strain on the tribe’s provision of health, AODA, and law enforcement services,” said Chairman Douglas Cox of the Menominee Nation, which filed suit in Wisconsin last month. He was referring to the high costs of alcohol and other drug abuse treatment services. On the funding front, the Trump administration is hoping Congress will go along with a proposal to create a new $150 million grant program at the Indian Health Service. The money would be awarded, on a competitive basis, to tribes and Indian organizations to address opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery support.
According to Michael Weahkee, the “acting” director of the IHS, the effort is modeled after the successful Special Diabetes Program for Indians, which has resulted in concrete gains in the fight against the preventable disease. Yet Congress has been reluctant to allocate funding for the initiative, with the most recent extension only going for the next two years. But with opioids garnering bipartisan interest on Capitol Hill, Congress set aside some more immediate resources. The $1.3 trillion #Omnibus spending bill that became law last month provides $50 million for opioid grants in Indian Country. Those funds are coming from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Indian Health Board reported. The #Omnibus set aside another $5 million, also from SAMHSA, to help tribes with medication-assisted treatment and recovery support services, NIHB said. "While this epidemic is impacting many communities throughout America, it has disproportionately impacted tribes and has further strained the limited public health and healthcare resources available to tribes," Samuel Moose, the treasurer of NIHB, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at a hearing on opioids last month.
The #OpioidEpidemic is not a one-size fits all issue, and we’re not approaching it like it is. @realDonaldTrump is serious about cracking down on individuals selling drugs to our kids. Native youth fighting for their future at Salt River Indian Community are inspiring. pic.twitter.com/oQNldtwgYk— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) March 19, 2018
Cronkite News: Tribes hit hard by opioid crisis but federal support remains elusive (March 20, 2018)
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs convenes hearing on opioids (March 14, 2018)
Tribes sound alarms about rise in heroin overdose cases in Wisconsin (March 6, 2018)
Indian Health Service budget promises funding for opioid epidemic (February 13, 2018)
Indian Health Service enters another year without permanent leader (January 25, 2018)
Tribes continue battles against drug companies amid a setback in court (January 17, 2018)
Choctaw Nation citizen taking oath of office as top federal prosecutor in Oklahoma (December 12, 2017)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation battles opioid epidemic among our people (August 2, 2017)