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Native Communities in Need of Healthcare Hit Hardest by Government Shutdown

January 8, 2019
American Indians and Alaska Natives in need of substance abuse treatment, including for opioid use disorder, are not getting the care they deserve.

In a January 8 NPR segment, Kerry Hawk-Lessard, executive director of Native American Lifelines, explained how the ongoing partial government shutdown is preventing her group from providing health services, including medication-assisted treatment for Opioid Use Disorder, to metropolitan-based American Indians.


Source: 123RFThe partial government shutdown of 2018-19 is hitting Native communities harder than others.

Native American Lifelines is an Urban Indian Health Program that receives funds from the US Indian Health Service (IHS) division to provide health resources and referrals to federal and state recognized Native Americans in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the country. The nonprofit’s work focuses on direct substance abuse prevention and treatment services, as well as health promotion/disease prevention activities including direct behavioral and dental care.

So far the group has missed two months of vouchers from IHS and may be forced to cease operations as of January 11, 2019, she told NPR “Over the last two weeks we have experienced four opioid overdoses, two of which have been fatalities. So for me, the thought that we won’t be there to support grieving families to or connect people who have survived overdoses or who currently have substance abuse problems with treatment is really scary,” said Hawk-Lessard. “Our people are already really burdened by high healthcare problems…so to know that there is no safety net for them is really scary.” She went on to say that services and vendors cannot be paid by “border wall—that’s not an accepted currency.”

A 2018 paper by Venner cited that American Indians and Alaska Natives are second only to whites when it comes to overdose mortality. Acknowledging this downward trending crisis, the CDC released $12 million in supplemental funds to support Tribal Epidemiology Centers and tribal entities in their overdose surveillance efforts in the middle of last year. But with many federal funds frozen, these groups are in a holding pattern that is now threatening patients’ lives.

Multiple media reports, including those from tribal leadership organizations, have emerged over the past few weeks regarding how the government shutdown is hitting Native communities harder than others, from depletion of food to lack of law enforcement. According to the editor of Indian Country Today , “the largest share of the Indian Health Service budget, 54 percent, is money that is transferred to tribes, urban programs, and nonprofits for clinics, hospitals and medical services.” Many individual tribal budgets are based on at least 50% of federal funds.

As Hawk-Lessard noted at the end of the NPR interview, many services available to Native peoples in the US are predicated on treaty rights and trust responsibilities - to see these rights backfire over a new immigration-based issue is mind-boggling, she stated. As much as the government seems to be concerned about battling the nation's opioid epidemic, its internal fight is clearly pushing those efforts backward.


Last updated on: June 6, 2019
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