More resources needed to curb the crisis
At the American Indian Center in Minneapolis on April 13, acting Department of Health Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson headed up a forum to address the ravages of opioid addiction, stating, “American Indians are five times more likely to overdose on opioids compared to White people. American Indian children are 17 times more likely to be placed in out-of-home foster care due to parental drug abuse.”
Johnson, flanked by representatives from the Native American Community Clinic; Wayside Recovery Center (including recovering Native American addict Kali G.); Hennepin Healthcare; Perspectives, Inc.; Wilder Recovery Services; and Minnesota State Senator Christina Eaton (DFL-District 40), went on to say, “Working closely with our community partners, we have [offered] pregnant and parenting women expanded access to medically-assisted treatment and improved care coordination.
“However, there is still a lot of work to do. We need [to] expand — not shrink — our opioid efforts by building on community-based efforts now underway. It’s going to take resources for all levels of government, along with community partners, to bring an end to this crisis.”
Based in St. Louis Park, the Perspectives mission is to rebuild families damaged by chemical dependency by supporting mothers in recovery, helping with housing for mothers and their children, and providing help with other components for health and wellness. The organization also provides treatment.
Yolanda Farris, liaison and recovery coach (herself in long-term recovery and an alumnus), helps clients make the best use of the Perspectives resources. “It’s important to be a good mother, a good neighbor, a good sister. We are lucky to have places like [this] in Minnesota. They don’t have them in places like Louisiana, Colorado. Those women, when they come out of treatment, walk around homeless.” Barely able to fend for themselves, they are in no position to adequately help much less properly raise children.
Participants spoke on this and other critical issues, among them the mental health issues often fostered or exacerbated by addiction, the sexual abuse treatment and counseling, pointedly the basic aspect of ensuring that those who want help have access to turn their lives around. Throughout, the focus was on female addicts and their offspring.
Senator Eaton commented, “I’ve been working on this issue a long time. I lost my daughter to a heroin overdose and I lost a cousin.” She stated she’s working on the Opioid Stewardship Bill with Governor Mark Dayton and others.
This bill proposes that opioid manufacturers pay a new fee when they renew their licenses with the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy. The revenue would go toward footing the state’s costs of preventing and treating opioid addiction. Eaton justified this saying, “Pharmaceutical companies started this crisis and epidemic. They’re just a legal drug cartel.”
Eaton went on to disclose, “I started out on this issue with upper-middle-class White people in the suburbs to find out it was only worse in the Native population and the African American population.
“I’m so sorry it took me awhile to come to that, but I’m glad it’s being recognized.” Johnson assured Eaton she had nothing for which to apologize.
It is, of course, common knowledge that smack, crack cocaine and other drugs have plagued communities of color for ages. While this event made much ado about concern for Native communities, the tragic statistics quoted by Johnson are not recent experiences for them either.
Two developments, however, are recent. One, an alarm has gone up over steadily worsening chemical dependency among White Minnesotans. Second, Minnesota received a $6 million, three-year federal grant to increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment last fall, as well as a $10.6 million Federal State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis grant earlier in the summer, which runs until July 2019.
There is, though, no money coming in to extend funding. This is why Governor Dayton proposed investing about $12 million a year to enhance opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery, overdose emergency response, and law enforcement strategies.
Speaking to MSR immediately following the roundtable, Yolanda Farris shared, “In America that’s exactly how it is. We’ve been dealing with addiction for years, going back to Vietnam. My dad came home with an addiction; nobody ever did anything and he fought for our country.
“[The concern is for] White Americans and they don’t really care about us. So we kind of have to squeeze in where we can and do what we can for each other. It’s very important.”
While Senator Eaton lays blame for opioid addiction squarely at the door of pharmaceutical companies, there’s also the individual who makes a choice to abuse this substance. Asked about the Opioid Stewardship Bill, Farris said, “Most opioids were made because people get surgery. Everybody who takes an opioid is not addicted to them. I think you need to get the doctors.
“The doctors are the ones that prescribe these opioids and know they are addictive. You have to know the people you serve. If they have addictive behaviors, you can’t give them things they’ll be addicted to.”