Article: White Earth Combating the Opioid Epidemic

Great article highlighting the work that the White Earth Nation is doing to combat the opioid epidemic and its impact on the community.

From the article:

“From rescue to long-term sobriety support, White Earth offers some of the best, most evidence-based, most effective, cutting-edge, and compassionate care in the multi-state region,” said Carson Gardner, a doctor with the White Earth Tribal Health Department. “Many of our programs are considered model pilot programs by state agency leaders. White Earth was recently invited to the National Senate Indian Affairs Committee to talk about what we’ve done around opioid treatment. One of the most important things that can happen is to stop being paternalistic and thinking tribes don’t have the capacity or ability to do it best.” . . .

So how are the needs of tribal communities in Minnesota different from non-native communities? “Native Americans in Minnesota have overdose rates five times that of whites,” Dr. Gardner said. “Our people have been in and out of external (non-native) treatment programs unsuccessfully. By operating our own treatment programs we can base curriculum, activities, and way of life on our culture.”

Culture is everything, he added. When treatment programs for Native American people are based on their culture, “you are then getting to the heart of healing. Substance abuse and mental health counseling is treating symptoms, but providing culturally-based ceremonies and activities is healing — and that is where we see the old ‘using’ spirit leaving people, and the good healthy spirit returning in people…”

Tribes face unique challenges, he added: They are dealing with multi-generational historical trauma, including loss of land and independence. They are struggling to preserve historical language, culture, and spirituality. They have to cope with too many untimely deaths, health disparities, and child welfare system disparities, as well as court system sentencing and incarceration disparities, Dr. Gardner said.

The treatment success rate for natives goes up when non-native staff become culturally competent, he added.

That means recognizing that the Anishinaabe way of life is a good way of life and learning about what that means, he said.

“Learn the stories, learn about ceremonies. Recognize that the addiction spirit in people is not the Anishinaabe way,” he said. “Respecting that, honoring it, promoting it.

One of the programs not specifically highlighted in the article, but getting a lot of attention for the success it is having is Maternal Outreach and Mitigation Services (MOMS Program), which is focused on providing holistic services for pregnant women in a supportive environment to deal with the medical and emotional problems caused by addictions to drugs such as prescription opiates and heroin. More information on the MOMS Program can be found here

The full article is available here.