Opioid Crisis Hits Native Americans

Local News

Four South Dakota tribes are suing 24 opioid makers and distributors.

In the lawsuit, the Rosebud Sioux, Flandreau Santee Sioux, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and Oglala Lakota Sioux tribes say prescription opioid abuse disproportionately impacts American Indian communities.  28 percent of opioid use disorder patients are Natives Americans.

South Dakota tribes say compounding the problem is very limited access to treatment programs on the state’s reservations.  However, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is in the process of increasing availability.

The meth epidemic is evident, playing out in the crime numbers on the Rosebud Reservation.  75 percent of arrests in this community are for meth-related crimes. That’s up 15 percent over last year.
But while meth-fueled crimes draw attention to that epidemic, opioid misuse can go under the radar–until now.

“A doctor prescribed it, so it can’t be that bad,” addiction counselor Ed Parsells said.

Parsells has spent decades working as an addiction counselor on South Dakota’s Indian reservations. 

“Addiction is addiction is addiction,” Parsells said. 

In 2010, The Rosebud Sioux Tribe Alcohol Drug Treatment Program opened the first Native specific program in the United States for meth rehabilitation and recovery.  The facility has 16 beds to treat those dealing with meth addiction.

Now, thanks to $600,000 in federal grant money, the number of those beds is expanding to 24. Eight new beds will be open to those who need help with opioid use disorder.

“Typically the tail is wagging the dog, especially in the field of substance use, but now we are going to be ahead of the curve,” Parsells said.

Parsells says often meth users switch to opioids to try to get off of meth and then opioids become the problem for them.

“I think just about every family on the reservations, it has affected; one person or another that we love,” Tamara Stands And Looks Back-Spotted Tail said.

Tamara Stands and Looks Back-Spotted Tail was personally affected by the over prescribing of opiates. Tuesday on KELOLAND News at 10, she shares her story of how she got hooked and then got off the prescription pain killers.

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