Senator Cantwell Pushes for Additional Funding to Combat Opioid Crisis, Support Treatment Efforts in Indian Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a former chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and nine of her colleagues urged Senate leaders to prioritize robust, direct funding to tribal communities to address the ongoing opioid epidemic in Indian Country. Senator Cantwell and her colleagues on the Indian Affairs Committee also held an oversight hearing today on combating the opioid epidemic in Native American communities. Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Behavioral Health Director Jolene George testified at the hearing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest overdose death rates of any group in 2015 and the largest percentage change in the number of opioid-related deaths over time.

In a letter sent to the leadership of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, the senators highlighted the steep increase in opioid overdoses on reservations and the pressing need for strengthened federal support to address long-term recovery efforts and prevent further deaths. The senators also addressed the opioid epidemic’s strain on tribal resources and its negative effects on entire communities.

“The impact of the opioid crisis extends beyond the addicted individual. Many tribes have dedicated their own resources to improve access to treatment and recovery services for their members, but they continue to struggle to find further resources to address the secondary impacts of addiction in their communities—especially, the impacts on children and families of individuals fighting addiction,” the senators wrote. “As more children are removed from their homes due to their parents’ addiction issues, foster care systems and kinship care networks are strained. Mental and behavioral health services for these children are critical to help them process the trauma and related challenges. Funding to address the crisis must take a holistic approach and support these families and communities to put them on a path to healing and improve outcomes.”

The letter and hearing come as Senator Cantwell continues her leadership in the fight against the opioid epidemic. In December of 2016, Senator Cantwell supported the 21st Century Cures Act, which provided over $1 billion in federal funds to combat the opioid epidemic, including $11.7 million in funding for Washington state. In February of 2018, Cantwell introduced the CARES Act, to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for misleading advertising and negligent distribution practices. Later that month, Cantwell joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce CARA 2.0, a comprehensive bill to increase funding for programs providing opioid education, treatment, and recovery.

In addition to Senator Cantwell, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

The full text of the letter is available HERE.