Hearts and minds were heavy as the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan met recently to discuss an issue weighing deeply on its members.

Several chairmen of the 11-member tribe conglomerate arrived in the heart of Detroit to explore the growing incidence of opioid abuse that has swept the nation, striking its tribal communities with an especially forceful blow.

A culture at risk

With around 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the United States, the Native American community makes up roughly 1.7 percent of the country’s total population. But according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), the minority group endures some of the highest rates of drug abuse.

A 2014 report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy found that nearly 20 percent of Native Americans misused drugs, with six percent using prescription drugs non-medicinally. Both numbers have since likely been made worse in the wake of the rising opioid abuse that has swept the United States, with an especially detrimental force hitting minority communities.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines opioids as a class of drugs that include both the illegal substance heroin and prescription pain medications including oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl. While the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed abuse of prescription pain relievers slowing subtly, it also showed a rise in heroin use. Researchers believe that the high costs of prescription drugs have caused many addicts to switch to the illegal street drug for a cheaper high.

The lure of cheaper opioids tends to be especially enticing to tribal reservations. Limited funds, lack of law enforcement resources and low employment rates often make tribe members an easy target for Mexican drug cartels in their recruits for drug traffickers, according to the National Survey on Drug use and Health.

“One of the biggest issues discussed at the Inter-Tribal Council meeting… (continue reading)