A $55 Million Opioid Response for Indigenous Communities

native american woman and child

Plus: Arizona and Oklahoma State partner on addiction research, and “deflection” strategies for first responders

By Dulcie Ulloa

New & Next: Policy

Addressing the Opioid Crisis in Native American Populations

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week announced $55 million in new funding for the Tribal Opioid Response (TOR) grant program, which supports expanded access to medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), as well as prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services for opioid use disorder (OUD) among American Indian and Native Alaskan tribes and tribal organizations. TOR funds are also eligible for the continuum of services addressing stimulant misuse. Up to 150 grants are expected to be awarded over the course of the two-year program.

“The TOR program ensures this country’s Native American communities get connected to effective, culturally relevant treatment and recovery support services, which is critical to our work to advance health equity and address addiction and overdose,” HHS secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

The infusion of funding comes at a critical time for Indigenous communities. A study published recently by the British Medical Journal found that opioid overdose deaths among Native American and Alaskan Native populations increased five-fold from 1999 to 2019, far greater than among the general population. The rise was particularly sharp among men, with deaths in which opioids were involved rising from 6.5 per 100,000 to 42.1 during that span. Fatalities related to synthetic opioids also soared, going from 1.5 per 100,000 in 2013 to 12.5 in 2019.

“These findings highlight existing inequities in drug-related deaths and may point to broader systemic factors that disproportionately affect members of [American Indian and Alaska Native] communities,” the authors of the study write. “Interventions for [American Indian and Alaskan Native] populations with substance use disorders will be more impactful if they are comprehensive, culturally centered, and address social determinants of health, including socioeconomic factors and racial and ethnic discrimination.”

New & Next: Research

Arizona, OSU Team Up on Chronic Pain and Addiction

The University of Arizona and Oklahoma State may be rivals on the basketball court, but they’re teaming up to address the opioid crisis. The two universities announced a partnership in which their academic medical research centers will share institutional resources to advance pain and addiction research and promote improved outcomes. Three research centers will form the core of the partnership:

  • Arizona’s Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center (CPAC)
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded Center for Excellence in Addiction Studies at UArizona Health Sciences
  • The National Center for Wellness and Recovery at the OSU Center for Health Sciences

“The most important beneficiaries of this partnership will be millions of people who suffer from pain or are at risk of addiction and their families,” said University of Arizona president Robert C. Robbins, MD. “We believe that by tackling chronic pain and opioid use disorder together, the University of Arizona and OSU will lead us to discovery of novel non-addictive treatments for those with chronic pain while discovering new ways to treat substance use disorder.”

New & Next: Education

Learning How to Support, Rather Than Arrest

Among the most important initiatives in addiction treatment is to move the response to a substance use crisis away from the criminal justice system and into the hands of addiction treatment experts. A new eCourse from the Justice Community Opioid Intervention Network (#JCOIN) called “First Responder Deflection: A Warm Handoff to Services in the Community” is intended to introduce the concept of deflection—that is, connecting people with substance use disorder to appropriate treatment as an alternative to arrest—to police, EMS and other first responders, as well as treatment providers, community leaders and other stakeholders in the addiction field. The course will offer examples of effective deflection strategies being used in communities and provide information and resources for local leaders to start or build on deflection initiatives in their communities. The on-demand course will be available beginning June 1. For more information and to register, go here.

Photo: Austin Wade