Leaders of the Fort Peck Reservation Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes in Poplar, Montana met with government officials in late May to discuss how to expand addiction treatment resources.
The reservation, which is situated north of the city in Montana’s Hi-Line region, stretches to the Canadian border.
U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke discussed with the tribal executive board members how additional federal assistance could help curb opioid and meth addiction affecting the Fort Peck population. Zinke’s Department of the Interior oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
The American Indian (AI) and Alaskan Native (AN) population in the U.S. has been hit hard by the opioid crisis in recent years.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AI/AN experienced the highest rate of drug-related overdoses in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas in 2015. In addition, these populations featured a 519 percent increase in overdose deaths between 1999 and 2015 in nonmetropolitan areas, the highest in the nation by race or ethnicity. However, CDC officials stated that they believe that the data focused on these populations may be vastly underreported.
Under reportage appears to be the case in the state. A Montana Department of Health and Human Services report could not determine a difference between white and AI/AN prescription opioid poisoning death rates in 2015 due to a limited sample of incidents occurring among the AI/AN population.
During the meeting, Zinke acknowledged the gravity of the opioid and meth problems afflicting Montana’s Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes.
Tribal committee board chairman Floyd Azure stated that meth abuse has caused many operations on the reservation to nearly cease — many jobs were unfilled because applicants could not pass drug test screenings. He added that there is a lack of law enforcement on the reservation and in the county to fight the opioid and meth crisis.
Zinke responded that BIA law enforcement personnel could be brought in to create plans of action to cut down illegal drug trafficking in the area.
He stated that he believes a good short-term solution to the problem would be to treat grandmothers and mothers with substance use disorders in the tribes. Placing them on the path toward addiction recovery may also cut down on the number of AI children sent to live with relatives, be placed in foster care or boarding schools.
Azure stated that several of the 107 reservation children were currently in foster care, due to drug abuse problems at home. He added that this year the reservation has recorded nine cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Tribal board member Marva Chapman-Firemoon stated that the focus should be placed on the children. She suggested building a dormitory on the reservation for children to provide them with a safe environment while their family members received addiction treatment.
Azure showed support for opening an addiction treatment center either on or nearby the reservation.
Zinske stated that the federal government has been focused on how to reverse the opioid epidemic across the nation.
In March, Congress approved the 2018 fiscal budget, which included provisions that would allocate $50 million to assist AI and AN tribes and expand addiction treatment via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grants.