Native American Communities Need Help with Opioid Crisis: Senator Fights for More Funding

By Victoria Kim 03/20/18

According to the CDC, Native Americans had the highest overdose death rate of any race in 2015.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp
Senator Heidi Heitkamp Photo via YouTube

One U.S. senator is determined to get tribal communities in the United States their fair share of the billions of dollars in funding dedicated to fighting the national opioid crisis.

Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, spearheaded a letter sent to Senate leaders early March, urging them to allocate opioid crisis funding to Native American communities. Nine other U.S. senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, signed onto the letter.

Heitkamp is trying to bring attention to the drug crisis plaguing tribal communities across the United States. The lack of resources, geographical isolation, and historical trauma in Native communities have only exacerbated the drug crisis.

“Those in Indian country face historically low access to quality health care, including behavioral health services, which could aid in the prevention, treatment and recovery of opioid abuse,” the letter reads. “In addition, tribal communities in rural areas often do not have access to substance use disorder treatment and prevention programs, and there are few resources to address long-term recovery.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Native Americans had the highest overdose death rate of any race in 2015.

The senators’ letter urges Senate leaders to include Native communities in the recent allocation of $6 billion to fight the opioid crisis. Another $12 billion could be available to communities nationwide if a bill that Heitkamp introduced in February becomes law. Her bill was designed to be flexible enough to allow individual communities to cater federal resources to their own needs.

“The opioid and methamphetamine epidemic on reservations has gone far beyond crisis-levels, and we are losing generations of daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, and grandparents to substance abuse,” said Heitkamp in a statement.

“Treatment facilities in Native communities have been disproportionately overwhelmed, and tribal resources have been drained as federal officials have largely failed to grasp the scope of Indian country’s mounting addiction challenges.”

In addition to offering treatment and recovery support in these communities, Heitkamp says there’s also a need for a more effective law enforcement presence that can handle criminal investigations and crack down on drug trafficking.

“To mitigate the long-term impacts of addiction and trauma, reservations must be positioned on a path that promotes healing and strengthens the safety of their tribes,” said Heitkamp.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr