Oklahoma

Cherokee Nation takes steps to halt opioid crises in Oklahoma KSNF/CODE

The program offers injection services to reduce drug use

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma – In an effort to fight the opioid epidemic on the Cherokee Nation reservation, tribal leaders opened a Cherokee Nation harm reduction program in Tahlequah.

The program provides needle services to reduce drug use and keep tribal people healthier by preventing the transmission of blood-borne infections. The program can also benefit first responders and the public by providing safe needle disposal and reducing the presence of discarded needles in the community, thereby reducing accidental disease transmission.

The Cherokee Nation makes up less than 6% of Oklahoma’s population, but nearly a third of the opioids distributed in the state in recent years entered Cherokee Nation communities, causing generational health problems and major trauma.

“In our Cherokee culture, we work together as a community for all of our fellow citizens in need,” Cherokee Nation Chief Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a prepared statement. “We should not fail to recognize the impact of addiction.”

Hoskin said this new program can address the complexities of drug addiction among Native Americans and provide meaningful resources that can have a lasting impact.

Needlework harm reduction programs do not increase illicit drug use or crime rates, but instead reduce the spread of viral hepatitis and HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more than a year, leaders of the Cherokee Nation have researched and toured effective harm reduction programs in tribal areas in Washington and North Carolina that are lowering hepatitis C incidence rates, reducing drug overdoses and aiding public safety.

Cherokee Nation was part of 22 programs and was the only tribe among more than 440 applicants to receive a SAMHSA grant for a harm reduction sprayer service last year.

“I’ve worked on the Cherokee Nation’s hepatitis C virus elimination program for seven years and have learned that without harm reduction, eliminating HCV is impossible,” said Dr. Jorge Mera, Director of Infectious Diseases.

“When I was told that the Cherokee Nation was developing a harm reduction sprayer utility, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mera said. “Perhaps now we can truly eliminate HCV from our communities.”

The Cherokee Nation was the first tribe in the country to receive a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration designated to start a harm reduction program.

The state of Oklahoma also has one of the highest hepatitis C virus prevalence rates in the US at 56%, attributed to injecting drug use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Customers can drop off used syringes for safe disposal to receive sterile syringes. Customers can also get fentanyl test strips, Narcan nasal spray, rapid HIV and Hep C virus tests, recovery support, referrals, and essential clothing and hygiene kits at the clinic.

The Cherokee Nation Harm Reduction Program at 214 N. Bliss Avenue in Tahlequah is now open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for tribal citizens and the public in need.

For more information about the Cherokee Nation’s Harm Reduction Program, call 539-234-3785; or for other behavioral health needs of the Cherokee Nation, call 539-234-3500.

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