Home Features Florida Seminoles Back Addiction Recovery
Florida Seminoles Back Addiction Recovery
June 2007

Wealthy From Hard Rock Casino Earnings, Tribe Opens a New Facility to Serve Tribal Members

Florida Seminoles Back Addiction RecoveryThe Seminole Tribe of Florida has a long and storied history as the only tribe in North America never to surrender to the United States Army during its campaign of displacement and extermination of tribes along the East Coast.

In 1842, President John Tyler, after spending more than $20 million and with 1,500 soldiers dead, declared an end to the wars against the Seminoles. Retreating to the safety of the Everglades swamps, the Seminoles only over 100 years later finally agreed to a settlement with the United States government, which established the modern organization of the Seminole Tribe of Florida of today. At the tribe’s social services agency, Family Services, which administers addiction treatment for tribal members, staff are mindful of tribal history. “We know we were undefeated by the United States Army and we remain determined to be undefeated by the disease of addiction,” says Helene Buster, the agency’s director.

Toward that end, Buster, the tribe’s leading advocate for addiction recovery, recently convinced the Seminole tribal council that it should back the creation of a new treatment center that would serve tribal members exclusively.

Teaming up with treatment executive John Cates, who in recent years helped build Ft. Lauderdale-based Treatment Solutions into a 130-bed operation, the Seminoles last month opened John’s Place in Ft. Lauderdale. With eight beds initially, there are plans in the near future, if all goes well, to expand the center potentially to 16 beds.

With 65 of its 3,300 members in treatment at any given time, Buster says that the Seminoles will continue to be a big referral source for the Florida treatment industry. Seminole Family Services counselors say they mostly prefer referring to Florida Model centers, where longer stays can be had at modest cost. According to SAMHSA, there are over 200 centers that specialize in treating the tribal demographic. But people who have observed the industry’s tribal sector say that these centers often come and go, their funding usually being based on fleeting public and philanthropic sources. But the new Seminole treatment venture will hardly face this problem, as the Seminole Tribe of Florida is by far the wealthiest of the North American tribes. With their Hard Rock Casinos scattered in several locations throughout Florida, revenues from gaming bring in $500 million annually, which is enough to pay each tribal member an annual stipend of over $80,000.

Florida Seminoles Back Addiction RecoveryThe Seminoles recently made financial page headlines worldwide after they agreed to pay almost $1 billion to acquire the famous Hard Rock Cafe International, based in London, to
which the tribe had been paying fees. And now the Seminoles are using their wealth to help fight the disease of addiction within their ranks.

“While we are starting small, we have the hope that our new center will grow,” says Buster, who herself has a history of cocaine addiction, which ultimately led to a stint in jail when she was much younger. “Perhaps one day our center here in Ft. Lauderdale will become a place where Native Americans come from all over the country to get treatment, finding new lives based on recovery from alcohol and drugs.” Certainly, the problem of addiction is far more prevalent in tribal society than it is in American society at large. SAMHSA data show that alcohol and illicit drug abuse among Native Americans is about a third higher across a range of substances than it is in the population generally. And, no doubt because of this, the rate at which Native Americans are admitted to treatment is also far higher than the rate for the overall population. According to SAMHSA, about 38,000 Native Americans were admitted in 2004, or about one percent of the population. The rate of admissions in the general population is about 40 percent less. But as the overall treatment gap is closing slowly, with total U.S. admissions rising about 15 percent in the last decade, tribal admissions have risen less. The efforts of wealthy tribes like the Florida Seminoles to back recovery are thus critical. JW

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