March 14, 2018

Hoeven Holds Hearing on Combating the Opioid Abuse Epidemic in Indian Country

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, today convened a committee oversight hearing on solutions to combat the opioid abuse crisis in Indian Country. During the hearing, Hoeven highlighted the impact of substance abuse in Native American communities and heard testimony from administration officials, tribal leaders and health care organizations on efforts to prevent and treat opioid abuse.
“Native American communities have been among those hit hardest by the opioid abuse crisis,” said Hoeven. “The committee is dedicated to engaging with tribes and finding ways to advance the federal government’s role in combating the dangers that opioid and other substance abuse present to tribal communities.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), opioid overdose rates are highest among non-Hispanic whites and American Indians and Alaska Natives. In 2016, 4.1 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives aged 12 and older reported misuse of opioids in the past year, the highest rate of all minority groups.
Today’s hearing follows a committee roundtable held in November 2017, entitled “Confronting the Crisis: the Opioid Epidemic in Indian Country.”
For complete testimony and video of the hearing click here.
Senator Hoeven’s full remarks:
“Good afternoon. I call this oversight hearing to order.
“Today we will examine the opioid abuse crisis and its effect on Indian Country.
“On November 9, 2017, this committee held a roundtable on the opioid abuse epidemic in Indian Country. The roundtable highlighted how the opioid abuse epidemic is particularly complex in tribal communities given the lack of access to medical care, shortage of law enforcement and insufficient data on substance abuse.
“This hearing will build on that discussion and examine how Congress, the administration, tribes and tribal organizations can work together to combat the crisis and heal Indian communities.
“The facts of the opioid abuse epidemic are tragic. Our country has witnessed an 18-year increase in deaths from prescription opioid overdoses and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdoses.
“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drugs now kill more Americans – nearly 40 percent more – than car accidents do.
“Native American communities have been among those hit hardest by the opioid abuse crisis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that the rates of opioid abuse are consistently the highest among Caucasian and Native peoples.
“According to the CDC, in 2016, 4.1 percent of American Indian and Alaska Natives age 12 and older reported opioid misuse in the past year, similar to whites at 4.4 percent.
“These statistics are serious. But they may not represent the magnitude of the crisis in Indian Country, as the epidemic may be underreported. Many witnesses at the roundtable highlighted that Native Americans are sometimes incorrectly classified as another race. Without accurate data, Congress, the administration and tribes are limited in their ability to allocate resources to the area of greatest need.
“The committee is dedicated to engaging with tribes and finding ways to advance the federal government’s role in combating the dangers that opioids and other substances present to tribal communities.
“The Indian Health Service has established the National Committee on Heroin, Opioids, and Pain Efforts (HOPE) Committee. The HOPE Committee has been tasked with promoting appropriate and effective pain management, reducing overdose deaths from heroin and prescription opioids and improving access to culturally appropriate treatment.
“The IHS also now requires all IHS federal prescribers, contractors, clinical residents and trainees to complete a course on treating pain and addiction.
“On March 29, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order establishing the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. 
“On October 26, 2017, the President declared the opioid abuse crisis a national public health emergency, and one week later the President’s Commission released its comprehensive final report.
“The final report contains more than 50 recommendations to agencies and to Congress. The Commission recommended that the IHS remove reimbursement and policy barriers to substance abuse treatment. Removing these barriers would help Native American communities access much needed treatment.
“It’s important to begin implementing these recommendations. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on these and other efforts to find a path toward healing for Indian communities.
“Finally, I am also mindful that when Congress does appropriate funding to combat this epidemic, it is important that Indian Country receives an adequate share of the funding and receives this funding in a manner that will ensure maximized impact to their communities. 
“With that, I would like to welcome our witnesses. Thank you for testifying today.”