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Native Americans and the Opioid Epidemic: Hidden Sufferers

Native Americans and the Opioid Epidemic: Hidden Sufferers

Written by: stodzy | Date: November 14, 2017

It is no secret that the Opioid Epidemic has taken over our Country, so much so that President Trump has declared it a national emergency. The Epidemic has received a lot of attention in the news, online, in public speaking events, and even in political debates. Most of us recognize the importance of this epidemic and the many people that have fallen under its dangerous influence. From the deep south to urban neighborhoods on the east coast, just about everyone is being talked about in regards to opioid use. There is, however, one significant population that’s being left out of the conversation- Native Americans.

How Have Native Americans been Affected?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans fare the worst in regards to minority groups in the Opioid Epidemic. Although African Americans and Latinos are the most prominently profiled, Native Americans alongside Whites are actually the most heavily affected by the epidemic.

Leon Leader Charge, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, S.D. and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Pine Ridge, S.D., worked in the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and witnessed firsthand how opioid addiction has impacted communities and reservations.

“As a community member and through word of mouth, I know our population suffers immensely,” he said “We have people dying because they are abusing opioids, alcohol, and methamphetamines. Their bodies can’t take all of that, so they just shut down.”

Since 2014 and rising, Native Americans have surpassed White racial statistics of overdoses and fatalities. In 2016. Approximately 90 per 100,000 Native Americans died of a drug overdose. That only records the fatalities, never mind those who are using and abusing.

What is it about Native Americans?

Why are Native Americans hit stronger than other minorities, and yet talked about less? To give a brief history of the Native American people, they once owned and lived on much of the land. Over time, Europeans and other races immigrated and took over,  becoming the majority. Native Americans have slowly been pushed aside, forced off their land, and given specific areas of land, known as “reservations”, where their people and culture can live at peace.

Yet, in reality, thousands of Native American children were shipped to boarding schools in an attempt to segregate, and their culture (which is extremely significant and important to them) has suffered. As a result, many Native Americans feel lost and struggle with the brokenness of their past. They turn to drugs to cope with this prejudice them and their families have faced. To highlight other cultures attempt at segregating them, most Americans don’t even know this history. Many live on land that once belonged to Native Americans, and they have no idea.

two people sharing a syringe with drugs

How are they Being Handled?

Trump nor his Opioid Commision have made actions or comments on how they are going to handle Native American Drug Epidemic. In fact, he is being criticized for making little to no moves after deeming the crisis a national emergency.

In response to the President and his administration’s lacks of effort, people are taking it into their own hands. Native Americans have begun suing companies they believe increased the drugs flooding into their communities and speaking openly to the public and politicians about the significance of this epidemic.

There have been no outcomes yet in regards to Lawsuits filed, but public awareness and donations have increased dramatically over the past 3 years.

What We Can Learn From Native Americans

The Native American’s involvement in the Opioid crisis can teach us a lot of things as we work together to bring it to an end. The first lesson to learn is the general topic of the “reason” or “cause” of opioid addiction. The Native Americans as a people have suffered immensely, and those who turned to drugs never received the proper counseling and support to get through their struggles. If we can insert more preventative matters than it will be less about stopping drug use and more about never starting it. This is not a simple fix of course, but offering proper education on drugs and having access to mental health care of all kinds is crucial.

The second lesson we can learn is the importance of recognition and speaking up. The Native American people are pushed under the rug and paid no attention to. They aren’t receiving the same funding or support for their opioid epidemic as other races in more urbanized areas. In turn- their opioid epidemic is worse than other populations. The more openly the issue is discussed, the harder we press to fight against it, the better our chances are at actually overcoming this horrible disease. But we cannot segregate the epidemic, we must realize it affects people from all walks of life, each whom deserve treatment and a full recovery.

Getting Help at Wayside House

If you are a woman struggling with addiction and mental health issues, Wayside House can help.We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer inpatient rehab with various therapies, relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare, as well as services for medical professionals and veterans. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.