Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Native Americans' opioid use is soaring, but many reservations lack funding for treatment

Drug addiction rates—especially use of opioids—are high among Native Americans, many of whom live in a world of poverty where "chaotic family lives, suicide, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence and other trauma are the norm," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. "Compounding the problem, the majority of the nation’s 2.9 million Indians living on and off reservations have little to no access to health care, much less mental health and addiction services."

"Native Americans are at least twice as likely as the general population to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and three times as likely to die of a drug overdose," she writes. A 2014 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that use of heroin among Native Americans who are seniors in high school is double the national average, while 61 percent of sophomores have smoked marijuana, compared to 33 percent of the general population. (PBS graphic: Overdose deaths by race in 2014)
Some of the more affluent tribes in the Northwest, mostly near major cities, have used money from casinos and other businesses "to build world-class health care systems on their reservations that include addiction treatment program," Vestal writes. It also helps that states with large Native American populations, such as Washington—where Native Americans die of drug overdoses at a rate of 29 per every 100,000, compared to rates of 12 for whites, 11 for blacks, 3 for Hispanics and 2 for Asians—expanded Medicaid under federal health reform.

"But the lifelong nature of addiction and the increasing availability of heroin and other illicit opioids demand more investment every year, particularly for recovery housing and support services, said Dr. Anthony Dekker, an addiction specialist and expert on Indian health," Vestal writes. "He addressed a gathering of 25 tribes from Idaho, Oregon and Washington here in November to discuss the opioid crisis in Indian country." Nearly all the tribes "provide some level of addiction services, needle exchange and naloxone distribution programs, and recovery housing on their reservations, though funding is limited for many." (Read more)

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