Washington State Takes Action to Combat Opioid Crisis Among Indigenous Communities

Governor of Washington 'Jay Inslee'.
Governor of Washington 'Jay Inslee'. Credit | Getty images

United States – Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a multimillion-dollar measure, which is intended to make state governments send some money to tribes and Indigenous people in Washington, who have surprisingly high rates of opioid overdose in the state.

Comprehensive Legislative Response

One of seven fentanyl-related bills Inslee signed and approved while present on the Tulalip Indian Reservation was reported by KING-TV. The bills, passed during the legislative session, aimed at dealing holistically with the fentanyl situation through improving opioid education, overdose prevention, treatment access, recovery supports, and first-responder resources, as reported by The Associated Press.

“We need to equip first responders with the life-saving materials they need,” Inslee said in an online blog post. We need to implement programs in public education and prevention. We need to place special emphasis on youth and Tribal communities. We need to increase the number of treatment facilities to make it easier to get help.”

Financial Support for Tribal Communities

The state Legislature unanimously passed the tribes bill in February. The bill is expected to provide nearly USD 8 million each year until 2031 for the 29 tribes in the state of Washington. Part of the money will come from a settlement of about half a billion dollars with major opioid distributors made by the state.

Data from the 2021-2022 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that deaths caused by opioid overdoses among Native Americans and Alaska Natives in Washington State occur at five times the state average, with provisional numbers included in this data. The rate is not low but rather the first in the country and three times the rate of the country.

Tribal government leaders at Lummi Nation, which is approximately 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Seattle, have said the fund is needed and helpful. Last year, Lummi Nation announced a state of emergency regarding fentanyl proliferation and introduced drug-sniffing dogs and checkpoints, as well as reserving bail only for cases of drug trafficking.

Lummi Nation’s Proactive Measures

The tribe additionally established a seven-bed facility, which was designed to assist those through withdrawal symptoms and on their way to gaining medication for opioid use disorder. In the first five months, the facility treated 63 patients, and most of them are still on medication regimes, according to Dr. Jesse Davis, medical director of the Lummi Healing Spirit Opioid Treatment program.

“Native American tribes are disproportionately affected, and they have taken a proactive approach to treatment that deserves support,” Republican Sen. John Braun of Chehalis said.

Legislation for Preventive Education

One of the other bills he signed on Tuesday, known as the Lucas Petty Act, involves fentanyl preventive education as a public-school curriculum. The law was named after the 16-year-old boy who lost his life in 2022, smoking marijuana he didn’t know had fentanyl, which was mixed in with the weed. She urged the House and Senate of the assembly present during the legislative session to vote in favor of her mother’s bill, as reported by The Associated Press.

“No parent should have to go through the heartache of losing a child to an overdose,” said bill sponsor Democratic Rep. Mari Leavitt of University Place. “Our kids are facing an opioid and fentanyl crisis that is deadly and unforgiving. As adults, we owe our kids the information they need to make smart decisions.”