Federal Agencies Turn To Naloxone To Curb Tribal Overdose Deaths

Dec 17, 2015

The Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are partnering to take on prescription drug overdose deaths.

The IHS will provide naloxone to BIA officers starting next year. The fast-acting drug counteracts respiratory shutdown brought on by overdosing on heroin or prescription painkillers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drug overdose deaths among Native Americans increased by 400 percent in the last 15 years. White House drug official Michael Botticelli says giving BIA officers naloxone is not their only response. They’re also working to curb overprescribing and increase access to addiction treatment.

"None of this is sufficient if people die, and that we don’t save their life to be able to get them into care and treatment," Botticelli said.

Officers will get eight hours of training and will start carrying naloxone next year. BIA joins a growing number of law enforcement agencies with officers trained to use the drug.

Botticelli said Quincy, Mass., police — the first in the U.S .to carry naloxone — have reversed more than 2,000 overdoses in five years.

"It’s really strengthened the relationship between law enforcement and the community, and they see law enforcement now as really helpful and part of the solution," Botticelli said.

BIA law enforcement officials say it’s important for their officers to carry naloxone because many tribal areas are far from hospitals.

IHS Chief Medical Officer Susan Karol said the program, which is starting in Oklahoma, will be somewhat limited in scope.

"The program is for IHS federal pharmacies. Pharmacies which are run by tribes and tribal organizations that have the same responsibility are not required to participate," Karol said.

According to the CDC, the drug-related death rate in tribal communities is twice that of the U.S.