By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Prescription drug abuse and overall drug addiction were the subjects of a public forum held at the Tribal Council House on Tuesday, Aug. 13. Tribal Council representatives were joined by local health professionals and concerned members of the community to discuss the important issue.
“This is a big concern and people don’t know what to do about it,” said Juanita Wilson, Project Lazarus facilitator who opened Tuesday’s meeting with an overview of her program. “Law enforcement alone can’t do it. The Hospital alone can’t do it. Analenisgi alone can’t do it. We have to do it as a community.”
She related that the number of people entering detox at Cherokee Indian Hospital has increased steadily over the past few years from 170 in 2008 to 245 in 2012.
“We have to find a way to get more people into treatment and on a wellness path,” Wilson commented. “It’s going to take all of us and not just a couple of departments.”
The theme of working together permeated throughout the meeting.
“This whole system is so fragmented,” said Nancy Long, of the Big Y Community. “Nobody wants to work together. With all of the drug programs you have here, unless they work together, it’s not going to work. We need one comprehensive program.”
Vice Chairman Bill Taylor agreed, “I think it’s time that we get all of the players in the room at the same time and come up with a plan.”
Chairman Jim Owle told the crowd at the meeting of a recent visit he and others took to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewas reservation in northeastern Minnesota where they toured transitional housing opportunities for those in drug recovery.
“If you bring people back into the same environment, they’re going to relapse,” said Chairman Owle. “We have to look at various avenues of treating our people.”
Amy Walker, an EBCI tribal elder from Yellowhill, related, “We have to start utilizing the communities and going into the communities. That’s where it’s happening. We are all responsible in a lot more ways than having a position or working in a program.”
“Take it to the communities to find out why these children are deciding to use drugs.”
During the meeting, several treatment options were discussed. Wilson spoke about Project Lazarus which involves a seven component wheel to address the drug problem on an individual community basis. The wheel involves the following: community education, provider education, hospital ED policies, diversion control, pain patient support, harm reduction, and addiction treatment.
“As Cherokees, we’re not supposed to be doing this (drugs),” Wilson noted. “It doesn’t agree with our culture.”
She did report that overdose deaths in Cherokee have dropped in recent years from eight in 2009 and 13 in 2010 to just one in 2011 and two in 2012.
A public forum is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 5pm at the Tribal Council House to discuss the possibility of a methadone clinic in Cherokee.