Saturday, July 20, 2024
Legislative Coverage

Tribal members confront fentanyl crisis

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OLYMPIA - Tribal members in Washington State are four times more likely to overdose and die on opioids than the state average, and advocates are pushing for state programs to address the crisis.

“A dark undercurrent, threatening the fabric of society, requires us to stand united and say, you’re not alone.” said Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-40th District. “Tribal wellness centers are at the forefront of Washington healing for over a decade, offering a beacon of hope.”

Lekanoff, the sole Native American woman in the Legislature, made the comments at a press conference at the Capitol Jan. 22 with a response plan called "Heal One Washington."

Two task forces and one youth awareness campaign are proposed at a cost of $1.65 million.

In 2022, the Lummi Nation declared a fentanyl crisis and brought tribal members together for the inaugural State Tribal Opioid Summit at Lummi.

“In our history, from our elders, from our ancestors, we have learned to take care of ourselves to stand up against any threat to our way of life, any threat to our well-being,” said Chairman of Lummi Nation Anthony Hillaire. “This is the most devastating threat we have seen.”

Makah Tribal Council Member Nate Tyler observed the impact of addiction on himself, friends, and family. The Makah tribe declared a state of emergency last year, recognizing it as an epidemic. He added tribes in rural locations often have trouble getting access to behavioral health, mental health, and detox programs.

Nisqually Tribe Chairman Willie Frank III celebrates a decade of sobriety from opioids.

“Fentanyl does not discriminate on race, age, color, whatever you might be,” Frank said. “Local governments and federal governments really can come together to help heal and bring this great state together. “

State tribes are calling on Governor Jay Inslee to officially recognize the fentanyl epidemic as a crisis. Officials say he is working closely with the Biden Administration on next steps. 

“The tribes are standing forward and saying we are here to help,” Lekanoff said. “There are over 17 to 21 tribal facilities in the state of Washington.”

Lekanoff emphasized a comprehensive approach to address the crisis, advocating for prevention through public information campaigns, K-12 education, drug task force initiatives, and substantial investments in detox, recovery, inpatient/outpatient services, along with aftercare support encompassing housing, jobs, and counseling—an integrated strategy for healing.

In concurrence with Washington State tribal partners, four bills are proposed to address alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder among tribal members.

  • HB 1877: Revitalizing Washington’s Behavioral Health System. 
  • HB 2305: Enhancing Cross-Jurisdictional Cooperation
  • HB 2372: Supporting Comprehensive Behavioral Health Services 
  • HB 2075: Streamlining Licensing for Indian Health Care Providers

The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website funded by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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