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Samantha Sears

Policy and Practice Improvement Intern

Senators Advocate for Funding to Combat Opioid Overdose Among American Indian Population

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Federal and state officials testified before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last week to discuss solutions to combat the high prevalence of opioid use and overdose among American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN). The panelists shared the latest statistics for opioid use and overdose among this population and advocated for additional funding for key government programs that expand treatment and recovery services.


According to the Indian Health Service (HIS) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), AI/AN experienced the highest number of opioid overdose deaths between 1999-2015 when compared to other groups. Overdose deaths rose by 500 percent among this population during those sixteen years. Captain Christopher Jones, Pharm.D., M.P.H., National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory Director at SAMHSA, added that the limited access to basic medical care on Native reservations further exasperates the effects of opioid addiction.

Panelists Rear Admiral Michael Toedt, M.D. Chief Medical Officer at IHS and Captain Jones identified key government programs and funding line items that were working to combat the epidemic. These programs included: medication-assisted treatment (MAT), Substance Abuse and Suicide Prevention (SASP), and Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) and a specialized substance use first aid training for tribal leaders. However, despite these efforts, each panelist shared that more must be done at both the state and federal level.


Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-N.M.) acknowledged that successful engagement of this population in opioid prevention and treatment programs is reliant upon the support of tribal leaders and federal agencies. The Senators identified a number of federal agencies and proposals to aid in expanding access to treatment and recovery supports including: expanded use of telemedicine, creating partnerships with primary care providers, increased use and distribution of naloxone, culturally trailed treatment programs for this population, and viable reimbursements for services.

The two hearing panels included: Rear Admiral Michael Toedt, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at the Indian Health Service (IHS); Captain Christopher Jones, Pharm.D., M.P.H., National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory Director at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); and John Anderson, United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico. Ms. Jolene George, Behavioral Health Director, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Kingston, WA and Mr. Samuel Moose, Treasurer and Bemidji Area Representative, National Indian Health Board, Bemidji, MN.