Tule River Reservation receives funding to fight overdose crisis

Amid a national drug overdose spike, the Tule River Indian Health Center Inc. receive $200,000 in grants to fight drug abuse

TULE RIVER TRIBE – With the amount of drug overdoses being higher than ever, the Biden administration is funding drug prevention and care through grants to rural areas.

The Tule River Indian Health Center Inc. received $200,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on Aug. 31. These grants were awarded to rural areas like Tule River with the intention of training Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel to handle substance abuse and mental disorders. These grants will also purchase more overdose-fighting medication like naloxone. The grants are part of the Biden administration’s National Drug Strategy and the HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy.

“To address overdose prevention, HHS is working to expand access across the full continuum – prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery supports – in an effort to help save lives,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a release.

Tule River is one of two areas in California to receive this grant. A vital tool to combating drug overdose is naloxone, which is a drug that instantly reverses the effects of an overdose. These grants will allow for the Tule River Indian Health Center Inc. to purchase this life-saving medication. 

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) stated in a White House release that naloxone was one of the main drug overdose prevention methods, even placing it in the same importance as disrupting criminal drug trafficking routes. The ability for EMS to have access to naloxone in rural areas is crucial.

An increase in drug-related deaths proved to be a catalyst for Biden’s drug prevention efforts. The HHS reported that overdosing on synthetic opioids killed just under 5,000 people in 2013, but that number spiked to over 35,000 in 2019. This is a 250% increase.

Most overdoses occur in rural areas, such as the Tule River Reservation, despite being significantly smaller than urban areas where overdose deaths are lower, according to the Centers of Disease Control. More specifically, Native American youth on reservations tend to have a higher substance use rate than other youth in the nation, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH). 

According to a study by the University of Southern California (USC) and California Department of Health Care Services, providing medication such as naloxone can greatly prevent an overdose in case of a relapse in patients. The contributing factors to Native American drug abuse in rural areas has a lot to do with limited access to medications like naloxone, as well as the cultural misunderstandings and stigmas that Western medicine has placed on Native communities. 

“Western based services (i.e. evidence-based practices) rarely reflect the diversity of cultures in California’s [American Indian and Alaska Native] communities in that they are not culturally, spiritually, linguistically, and geographically representative in prevention, intervention, and treatment modalities,” USC stated in the study.

These studies, according to the NIH, call for preventative efforts in addition to culturally-aware intervention that showcases the “inherent strength and traditions” of all Native American people.

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