Courtesy Britt Ehrhardt, Indian Health Service
Pictured (from left) are: Michael S. Black, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Dr. Susan V. Karol, Chief Medical Officer, Indian Health Service; Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House and Charles Addington, Deputy Associate Director of Field Operations, Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Drug Overdose Victims Can Be Saved by New Multi-Agency Effort

Suzette Brewer

National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli announced a new initiative in collaboration with Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Wednesday, to train and equip law enforcement in Native communities with the medication naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of a prescription opioid or heroin overdose. The initiative is part of the Obama administration’s commitment to help reduce the number of opioid overdoses across the country.

Speaking at a press conference at the Indian Healthcare Resource Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Botticelli said that because many Native communities are remote and may be far from medical facilities, BIA police officers are often the first responders in an overdose situation. Therefore, he said, the ability to administer naloxone is a crucial tool in intervention to save someone who may have only a narrow window of survival.

“We are here to build upon the work already being done and to help reduce drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma and among American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Botticelli. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of overdose death involving prescription opioids among American Indian or Alaska Natives increased almost four-fold from 1999 to 2013 – and the rates of drug-related deaths in these communities is twice that of the general population.”

Dr. Susan Karol, who is the Chief Medical Officer for the Indian Health Service, said that beginning in 2016 the agency would cover the costs in providing naloxone kits to the more than 90 IHS pharmacies across the country and would make the option available to tribally-owned pharmacies, as well. Additionally the IHS will provide naloxone kits, along with training and support, to BIA law enforcement, starting with a pilot program in Oklahoma before pushing the program out nationwide. The kits would also be made available to tribal law enforcement agencies across the country.

“As a medical professional myself, I have seen the damage created by opioid addiction in our communities,” said Dr. Karol, who is a member of the Tuscarora Indian Nation of New York. “To address the epidemic of opioid addiction, [IHS] has also developed a toolkit to identify those who are at-risk so that we can provide naloxone to patients in need. We are also proud to partner with the BIA, whose officers are often the first responders in these situations.”

An inexpensive opioid antagonist, naloxone was patented in 1961 and approved by the Food and Drug Administration a decade later. Safe and non-toxic, it is also on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.

“In the face of an epidemic that claimed an average of about 130 lives every day in 2014, this type of collaboration – between public health and public safety – is exactly what we need,” said Botticelli. “In my home state of Massachusetts, law enforcement officers who carry naloxone report that it has not only saved lives – it has helped them develop stronger relationships with the community.

Officials at the press conference said the estimated costs for naloxone kits for law enforcement is approximately $39 per application, which would be atomized and administered nasally. Beyond emergency life-saving efforts, however, they emphasized the necessity of immediate medical treatment, follow-up care, counseling and drug treatment for patients.

“None of [these efforts] are sufficient if people die,” said Botticelli. “We have to ensure that they have access to medical care and follow up treatment in battling [what has become] a public health crisis. Overdoses are now at their highest level and it’s important that… [we] to continue that important national conversation.”

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