By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
WebMD states that Methadone “works on parts of the brain and spinal cord to block the high caused by using opiates such as heroin”. A public forum was held on Tuesday, Aug. 20 in the Tribal Council House to discuss the possibility of a Methadone Clinic for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Dave Nelson, of Native Health LLC, gave a brief presentation to open the meeting entitled “Opioid Treatment Programs in Indian Country”. His company manages methadone clinics for the Abesentee-Shawnee and the United Keetwooah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and they are set to open one soon for the Cherokee Nation.
“We’re really proud of our programs,” said Nelson who said they have an 86 percent success rate.
At the clinic, Nelson said patients would be administered liquid methadone by a nurse on a daily basis in the beginning of their treatment. They would also be required to attend three counseling sessions a week.
“These patients want to be in our program,” he said. “They want to be well.”
Joe Jenkins, the clinical supervisor at a Native Health-run clinic known as the Keetoowah Cherokee Treatment Services clinic in Tulsa, was present for Tuesday’s meeting. “Our program is designed to start detox in 180 days.”
Jenkins said methadone is the best medication to help patients tricate from opiates, but he did say that counseling and other factors play a role as well. “Culture plays a huge role in our treatment program. The more we can get the family involved…the better the outcome for the patient.”
Nelson said the venture, which he initially discussed possibly putting in Sylva, would be at no risk to the Tribe. He also advocated serving non-Indians as well as tribal members. “Why serve non-Indians? It generates positive revenue for the Tribe. There is no recession in health care, and it should be profitable in Indian Country, and we know how to make it profitable.”
He further stated, “Our group will fund the entire program in exchange for a share of the revenue.” Nelson related that other clinics have cost between $1.6 – 1.8 million.
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell said, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it for our people here.”
Casey Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital CEO, said all hiring for the proposed facility would be done through the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority. “In relation to extending services to non-Indians, it’s really hard to sober up a community when you’re not treating the whole community.”
He also said that adding non-Indians would make the business “very, very lucrative”.
Dakota Bone, an EBCI tribal member, addressed the money issue, “I’m concerned about this. You’re selling this like we’re going to make a lot of money off of this and it concerns me.”
Big Cove Rep. Bo Taylor agreed with the idea of a clinic. “I asked our health providers, do we have the resources to treat our people and they said no. There is a need in our community, and it’s going to get worse.”
Rick Lossiah, an EBCI tribal member, said he has been clean from drugs for 10 years. “People have to want to be clean. I wanted to get clean, so guess what…I’m clean.”
Lossiah attributes his success to a will to be clean and attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings. “My heart is beating for our people. I want to see them get better, but the only way they will is to want it.”
He is against methadone and related, “I’m living proof that it can happen without drugs, but you have to want it.”
Carol Long, an EBCI tribal member from the Big Cove Community, works in the Cherokee Tribal Drug Court. “I don’t like suboxone. I don’t like methadone. I don’t think we need either one of these…they are trading one drug for another.”
Patty Grant, Analenisgi program manager, related that there are 47 methadone clinics in North Carolina. She advocates for a residential treatment facility in Cherokee. “Our community members would be in a treatment program for 18-24 months and have that structure and stability. The beauty of this community is that we embrace them and love them until they can get well.”
Chairman Jim Owle noted, “I think drugs on the reservation, overdoses on the reservation, is a big issue for this Tribe. I’d love to see everyone in treatment that addicted here.”
He visited the Keetoowah Cherokee Treatment Services clinic on a recent trip to Oklahoma. “I’ve seen this program in Oklahoma. I’ve seen it working. This may not be the answer, but we have to do something.”
For more information about methadone, visit https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/alcohol-abuse/methadone.