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Impact of addiction on Native Americans

Posted at 5:56 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 20:59:33-04

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma Medical Professionals are tackling the state’s addiction crisis head-on. Oklahoma State University kicked off its first day of a week-long virtual Addiction Medicine Conference Tuesday. The discussion focused on addiction in Native America, an epidemic among many native tribes across the country.

READ MORE: Okla. medical professionals address state’s opioid crisis head-on amid pandemic

Native Americans exceed the national average for opioid-related deaths by 0.7%, according to the Tribal Epidemiology Center.

Carmen Marie White Eagle, member of the Pawnee and Miami tribe, says addiction has been a problem within native communities for far too long.

She’s experienced the plight of addiction first-hand. After recovering from a heroin addiction of her own, White Eagle has made it her goal to help other tribe members fight the battle she once had. Now, a harm reduction specialist for recovering addicts, she’s a strong proponent of Narcan; a fast-acting medication used to treat an opioid overdose.

“And this is literally the link between a dead family member or a family member that has a chance to recover,” White Eagle said.

Opioid overdoses account for nearly 50,000 deaths per year in the US, with native Americans suffering the most out of any demographic. That’s often due to a lack of resource centers offered on tribal lands. According to the National Indian Health Board, native tribes were not included in the 2017 State Targeted Response plan for the Opioid Epidemic grants. Oklahoma Tribes missed out on more than $14 million over two years. Many tribes were forced to compete with state agencies for critical funding.

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