HHS Secretary Price visits Cherokee, Pawnee nations
Tom Price, U.S. Department of Human and Health Services secretary, speaks about the overdose and opioid epidemic sweeping the nation with Principal Chief Bill John Baker during a Sept. 20 press conference at the Jack Brown Treatment Facility in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – U.S. Department of Human and Health Services Secretary Tom Price made his first visit to Oklahoma on Sept. 19 to meet with tribal officials from the Cherokee and Pawnee nations as part of a three-day tour of health care facilities and to address tribal health care needs.
Following a tour of the Jack Brown Treatment Facility, a facility for treating Native American youth with substance abuse problems, Price and Principal Chief Bill John Baker held a press conference to address health care issues sweeping Indian Country and the United States.
With the opioid crisis as the main topic, Baker talked about how hard the CN is being hit by the epidemic.
“Pain medications are saturating the Cherokee Nation. In our Indian Child Welfare office, about 40 percent of our foster care cases involve families torn apart by opioids. We have babies being born in our hospital on a monthly basis having to be life-flighted to Tulsa because they entered the world, at no fault of their own, with these powerful drugs in their system,” he said. “Opioid is crippling Indian Country, and the Cherokee Nation is certainly feeling the negative effects. It is literally destroying lives and wrecking families.”
Baker said the CN has filed a lawsuit against the largest distributors of opioid drugs in America, and the case is pending in tribal court.
Price visited the CN as his third stop in Indian Country, while continuing his outreach to bring light to the opioid crisis. He commended the CN for the health care and behavior health services being provided at the W.W. Hastings Hospital and the Jack Brown Treatment Facility.
“The work you’re doing here is really a model not just for Indian Country but for the entire nation,” said Price. “The system of self-governance and health care that exists in Cherokee Nation is one of remarkable expanse and remarkable capability.”
Like the opioid statistics, the numbers in overdose deaths are continuing to get worse in CN and in America. Price said those numbers are “moving in the wrong direction.”
“The number of overdose deaths in Cherokee Nation has more than doubled between 2003 and 2014… The numbers nation wide are astounding with over 60,000 overdose deaths across America in 2016,” he said.
He addressed a five-point strategy the HHS has outlined for health care providers to heed in hopes of finding a solution to the overdose and opioid epidemic. The strategy includes more addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services, more overdose reversers as well as better data, research and pain treatment.
The CN recently received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for overdose reversers such as the nasal spray Naloxone, which blocks the effects of drugs made from opium or opioids. Price said traveling to different communities across the country allows him to ensure tribes are aware of those types of funding opportunities under the HHS strategy.
“We are committed to fighting alongside Cherokee Nation and others – all American Indians and Alaskan Natives – to make certain this scourge is moved in the right direction, that is decreasing the incidents of this addiction,” he said.