Indigenous tribes call on Congress to provide ‘all necessary resources’ to tackle opioid crisis

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Following a historic settlement agreement with the nation’s largest drugmakers and distributors, Native American leaders told lawmakers on Tuesday that the federal government must also fulfill its commitments to help tribes fight the coronavirus epidemic. opioids.

Leaders of the Cherokee Nation and the National Urban Indian Health Council have demanded that lawmakers fulfill their legal obligation to provide health care to all tribal citizens – an obligation Rep. Katie Porter (D-California) has called for. stated that “the US government has never complied.”

“American Indians and Alaska Natives have kept their cultures and governments alive through centuries of colonial violence, dispossession and forced assimilation,” said Porter, who chairs the resources subcommittee. of the House on oversight and investigations. “Today, opioids are another attack on tribal cultures – tearing families apart, claiming lives and disrupting ways of life.”

More than 400 Native American tribes and tribal organizations have accused Johnson & Johnson and major U.S. drug distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen of intentionally funneling opioids into their communities.

The distributors agreed in February to pay the tribes nearly $440 million over seven years, according to court documents, after agreeing to pay the Cherokee Nation about $75 million in a similar settlement agreement. Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay the tribes $150 million over two years.

Senior Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation said his administration plans to spend at least $15 million of its settlement money on construction costs for new drug treatment facilities. Additional government funding, he said, would allow the Cherokee Nation to train more of its own addiction counselors and invest in youth addiction prevention programs.

“These treatment centers will help bring about transformational change and bring some justice by bringing healing to our people, using funds from the very industry that has hurt us,” Hoskin said. “But settlement funds alone will not be enough to end the opioid crisis.”

As fatal overdoses hit an all-time high in the United States — with more than 100,000 annual overdose deaths in 2021, according to interim data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Indigenous communities have suffered disproportionate losses.

According to the CDC, American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest rate of drug overdose deaths of any ethnic group in 2020: 42.5 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 28.3 deaths. per 100,000 people in the general population.

Although the opioid crisis is just as prevalent in urban Indigenous communities as it is on reservations, Maureen Rosette, board member of the National Urban Indian Health Council, said urban Indian organizations, known as name of UIO, are often excluded from funding allocations.

“Where UIOs are not explicitly declared as eligible entities, we are excluded from essential resources and grants, which is a breach of the obligation of confidence,” said Rosette, a citizen of the Chippewa Cree Nation, referring to the law requiring the US government to support Native tribes.

According to the Indian Health Service (IHS), nearly 70% of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in urban or suburban communities, but only about 1% of the $8.5 billion annual budget of IHS funds UIOs.

“It is the obligation of the United States government to provide these resources to American Indians and Alaska Natives residing in urban areas,” Rosette said. “We urge Congress to take this obligation seriously and provide the UIO with all necessary resources to protect the lives of all Native American and Alaska Native people, regardless of where they live.”

Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) asserted that the disproportionate impact of the opioid crisis on Indigenous communities is not the result of a funding issue, but rather a border security issue that he blamed on President Biden.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment, transnational criminal organizations often smuggle drugs through reservations along US borders. Poverty and high unemployment rates contribute to the indigenous community’s heightened susceptibility to addiction and exploitation by drug traffickers, the report said.

“The point we’re trying to make today,” Moore said, “is that no amount of additional expense, additional advertising, or physicians being more focused on this with their individual patients, can overcome the volume. [of drugs] that we have seen at our borders over the past year.

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