Tribal Led Summit Seeks Culturally Led Solutions to the Opioid Crisis

(Photo/CDC - |  Credit: Getty Images/Roel Smart)

Some 1,000 tribal leaders, frontline health workers, and tribal community members are meeting at the Tulalip Tribes in Marysville, Washington for the three days for the inaugural National Tribal Opioid Summit.

The three-day summit titled Healing Our Nations Together is hosted by the National Indian Health Board and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

Since 1999, drug-related deaths among American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) individuals have quadrupled. In 2021, Native people had the highest opioid-related death rate of any demographic in the United States.

The summit’s focus is on combating the fentanyl crisis in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities. Organizers feel this will be achieved by fostering open discussions and identifying solutions and policies guided by tribal perspectives.

"As the national representative of all 574 federally recognized tribes in the realm of health, the National Indian Health Board is delighted to join forces with our member organization to convene a conference that brings national attention to the fentanyl crisis in Indian Country. The rate of fentanyl-related overdoses among American Indians and Alaska Natives is 30 percent higher than any other demographic in the United States,” the National Indian Health Board’s Chairman William Smith (Valdez Native Tribe) said.

“This situation cannot persist. Our collaboration will enhance awareness, explore successful culturally-informed healing and recovery approaches, and chart a path for policy changes. Healing is imperative for Tribal Nations. Healing must occur collectively, encompassing communities and individuals," Smith continued.

The summit is an extensive working meeting, featuring plenary sessions and smaller group discussions aimed at gathering input from tribal leaders, community members, frontline healthcare providers, and emergency responders. The first day of the summit will center on discussions regarding fentanyl-related challenges within communities. The second day will spotlight tribal-driven solutions, while the third day is anticipated to yield policy recommendations led by tribes to be presented to federal and state officials.

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In their commitment to addressing the national fentanyl crisis, the National Indian Health Board will identify policies and measures suitable for implementation at the federal level, including within the Indian Health Service.

"The fentanyl crisis in Indian Country has reached alarming proportions, and this summit marks the initial stride toward healing," National Indian Health Board CEO Stacy Bohlen (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) said. "Our people are succumbing to fentanyl overdoses at a rate surpassing any other group in the United States, reflecting a staggering 279 percent surge between 2016 and 2021. The solutions for healing lie within our culture and community. The time is ripe for tribal nations to unite and safeguard our people and the generations to come."

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