North Dakota tribes seek state help with addiction treatment

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota tribes are asking state officials for more help to address the opioid epidemic on their reservations.

“We’re all doing something, and it’s all good work, but we’re doing it in separate places and different directions,” said Bruce Gillette, director of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations’ Circle of Life, a treatment center in New Town. “How do we come together and do this effectively?”

Duane Silk, director of addiction services for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, told the Bismarck Tribune for a story published Tuesday (http://bit.ly/2tmwusC ) that the tribes have lost touch with the state on drug issues over the years. Tribes used to be more involved with addiction treatment, he said, including serving on the state’s licensing board for addiction counselors and having more regular interactions with local human service centers.

With first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum making addiction treatment her platform, tribes are hoping to revive those relationships with the state.

Treatment providers and addiction program directors representing four of the state’s five tribes, excluding the Trenton Indian Service Area, met with North Dakota Department of Human Services leaders last week to discuss how they could improve communication between the state and tribes, and explore what state treatment and prevention funding programs are available to tribes.

“I would like to know and understand how the state can help us, as private providers, help our people,” Gillette said.

Gillette says his tribe is seeing a rash of opioid use, including heroin, as well as methamphetamine use.

“We’re in an epidemic with our adolescents,” Gillette said. “From seventh grade on up, it’s a big problem.”

Circle of Life currently offers outpatient services for adolescents and adults, and the tribe is building a new drug treatment program in Bismarck.

“(The meeting is) a good start,” said Silk, who became involved in Standing Rock’s outpatient program after recovering from an alcohol addiction himself in the late ’70s. “I know there are some restrictions with certain things, but if we could at least communicate, I think it would be a good thing.”

Pam Sagness, director of the Department of Human Services’ behavioral health division, said the department currently holds quarterly prevention meetings with the tribes, but they never included substance abuse treatment or mental health until last year.

“I think that there’s always room for improvement with collaboration,” she said.

The next meeting with tribal and state officials is scheduled for Aug. 8-9 in New Town.

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