Prescription Painkiller Addiction Becomes Growing Problem on American Indian Reservations
Overprescription of painkillers is "fueling serious painkiller abuse" on American Indian reservations in Montana and across the nation, the Great Falls Tribune reports. Some law enforcement and health officials attribute rising rates of narcotic abuse among American Indians to long waits for surgeries to replace knees and hips and address other pain-related ailments, according to the Tribune. While the patients wait, physicians prescribe them painkillers. In 2006, 5,170 American Indians in Montana and Wyoming were waiting to receive surgeries.
Poverty, "handsome prices for contraband pills," no-cost access to physicians who can prescribe painkillers and a long history of addiction in the American Indian community also contribute to the problem, according to some health experts. American Indians and Alaska Natives have higher rates of dependency or abuse of psychotherapeutic drugs, painkillers and tranquilizers than any other race, according to the 2002-2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.
Painkiller addiction is straining substance use treatment programs run by HHS' Indian Health Service. Those seeking treatment for painkiller abuse usually require a longer course of treatment than those with alcohol use problems. They also require more aggressive forms of treatment and have more severe withdrawals, according to Sandra Calf Boss Ribs, unit manager at Crystal Creek Lodge, a substance use treatment center run by an American Indian tribe and partially funded by IHS.
In a written response, IHS said, "Current case loads do not preclude IHS doctors from upholding the standards of care, which include rational prescribing decisions based on their medical training." The agency in the response also said that overprescription of painkillers at its clinics is not a problem (Ogden, Great Falls Tribune, 7/22).