Non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest drug overdose death rate of any racial group in 2019 and 2020, according to federal data.
Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, told lawmakers that there is "an epidemic of opioid abuse sweeping through Indian Country."
After settling its claims against opioid distributors – netting roughly $93 million – the Cherokee Nation intends to spend at least $15 million to build drug treatment facilities, Hoskin said.
“But the settlement funds alone will not be enough to end the opioid crisis,” Hoskin said. “We need the federal government to fulfill its trust obligations to tribes and fully fund these vital programs to help our tribal citizens recover from addiction."
Indian Country's opioid crisis isn't limited to rural reservations.
Maureen Rosette is Chippewa Cree and a board member of the National Council of Urban Indian Health. She says federal laws and grants need to explicitly target urban Indigenous peoples.
“Grants like the State Opioid Response Grant would allow us to provide culturally appropriate treatment in our community, but we’re not included,” Rosette said. “You have to specifically say ‘urban’ along with ‘tribal,’ otherwise we are not allowed to get the funding.”
Art Del Cueto also testified. He’s vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union, and works in southern Arizona. He told lawmakers that stricter border policy is needed to limit the flow of drugs across the southern border, specifically across the Tohono O’odham Nation.
"The amount of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, pouring into our country across our Southern border is staggering and frankly terrifying knowing that just two milligrams is considered a lethal dose," he said.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.