America's opioid epidemic: The tribal connection - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

America's opioid epidemic: The tribal connection

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DURANT, Okla. -- The number of overdoses and deaths resulting from the nation's opioid epidemic continue to mushroom.

"If you look at opioid deaths from 1999 to today, there are five times more opioid deaths," said family practice physician Dr. Duke Carlson of Texoma Medical Center. "Nearly 42,000 patients a year are dying from opioid deaths."

Washington has been trying to help solve this problem.

"In the last few years, we've seen the federal government be interested in the opioid situation," said Bob Rhoden of Four Rivers Outreach in Sherman. "I've heard words like 'epidemic' and 'national crisis,' and certainly it is a big deal."

U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-District 2) has introduced legislation that hits close to home for his Oklahoma constituents, focusing on one specific demographic.

"Like most people, it's in our families -- either immediate or a little bit of a distant family -- it's hitting us, and throughout Oklahoma and parts of Texas it's disproportionately high in Native American communities," he said. 

Clint Morrison, chief pharmacist at the Choctaw Nation Health Authority, said the problem has continued to grow.

"Nationwide compared to the general population, Native Americans are about three times more likely to suffer from an opiod addiction," he said. 

Mullin is introducing a bill called the Tribal Addiction and Recovery Act. HR 5140 would give tribes access to federal opioid grants. Currently, tribes are forced to petition the state for access to grants.

"The issue that we have with that is, tribes are sovereign nations and their sovereignty doesn't come from the state... it comes from the federal government," Mullin explained. He added that the proposed legislation would let tribes allocate money wherever they see fit.

"I think the money would allow us to start programs and expand on programs that we currently have," Morrison said.

Rep. Mullin said the next step for the legislation is to try and find the proper funding.

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