Cherokee Nation fights opioid misuse through education, prevention

04/22/2019 03:45 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation Prevention Specialist Coleman Cox and Community Action Network member Shannon Baker, of Vinita, lead a discussion about community prevention efforts and reducing underage alcohol. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health is hoping to end opioid misuse in Indian Country by helping Cherokee families with programs that focus on education, prevention and medication-assisted recovery.

“Our main goal is to use science in action to reach into our communities and show those struggling with addiction that there is a way out and their family and friends that there is hope,” said Juli Skinner, Behavioral Health clinic administrator. “We’re already seeing shifts of attitude and access within our target communities and clinics.”

The Behavioral Health team works with community groups, local law enforcement, CN Health Services and area schools to help educate about the misuse of opioids and the proper use and storage of them, as well as offer community-wide drug take-back events and various counseling and support services.

“It’s just as much about preventing misuse and abuse as it is stopping an overdose,” said Sam Bradshaw, Cherokee Nation Prevention director, said. “We are currently pioneering tribal medication-assisted recovery practices and continue to support safe solutions for opioid storage and disposal within our network of communities.”

Since 2014, the tribe has received more than $7 million in grant funding from sources such as the Indian Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. Those multiyear grants helped start six key programs, including the Community Action Network, CN Tribal Opioid Response, Think SMART Oklahoma, Restoring Lives Network, Drug-free Communities and Project HOPE.

“The programs we’ve developed are evidence-based practices and include activities like peer-to-peer trainings for law enforcement and other first responders to use a lifesaving opioid overdose antidote called naloxone,” Bradshaw said. “We distribute Narcan, a nasal spray form of naloxone, to first responder agencies who attend our trainings, and we also resupply them as the need arises.”

In addition to the key programs, Behavioral Health officials have worked closely on projects such as the CN Opioid Task Force, the Hepatitis-C Elimination Project and the medication-assisted opioid treatment expansion.

“Opioid addiction doesn’t look like what you would think,” Bradshaw said. “It’s our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins and our children. Increasing awareness of the effects this drug has on the individual and the community, as well as access to services to provide help, is the best way to fight this crisis.”

To learn more about the Community Action Network and its work to end opioid misuse, visit

For more information about opioid addiction assistance, call Behavioral Health and Prevention at 918-207-4977.


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