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Health secretary visits Nation

Tahlequah Daily Press - 9/21/2017

Sept. 21--Dr. Tom Price, U,S, secretary of health and human services, paid a visit Wednesday to the Cherokee Nation to discuss some of the public health issues affecting the country, particularly the opioid crisis.

After touring W.W. Hastings Hospital and the Jack Brown Center, Price held a press conference with Principal Chief Bill John Baker, during which they highlighted progress the tribe has made on behavioral health issues, and discussed a strategy to suppress opioid dependency.

"In our Cherokee communities, there are enough prescription opioid pain killers shipped in to provide every man, woman and child with 153 doses each, according to the figures from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs," said Baker. "In our Indian Child Welfare office, about 40 percent of our foster care cases involve families torn apart by opioids. We have babies being born in the hospital on a monthly basis, having to be life-flighted to Tulsa because they entered the world -- at no fault of their own -- with these powerful drugs in their system."

Price also visited the Pawnee Nation while on his three-day visit to Oklahoma as part of the HHS' efforts to deal with the opioid crisis. Price outlined his plan, which includes a 5-point strategy to assist heath care providers and "turn them in the right direction."

"The five-point strategy; we've already begun rolling it out and participating in it," said Price. "One of the activities is to, in fact, travel to communities large and small. I made a promise to the Chief and others to get to Indian Country."

Part of the process to solve the opioid crisis is to educate the public about the addiction, and remove the associated stigma.

"Part of the challenge we have, is that in certain areas, it's not viewed as a disease," he said. "This is a disease of addiction. Unless we view it as a disease, we won't get to the right solution."

The next step involves ensuring that overdose reversing drugs are readily available throughout the country in an effort to save lives.

"It's not just resources that are necessary, it's eduction," said Price. "We've got a program to educate first responders, and make sure that those folks that find themselves first on the scene are well versed in utilization of that."

Getting better public health information data is also on the list. Price said it might help people better understand the "sense of hopelessness, or helplessness that exists out there."

"Until we answer these questions, as a physician I can tell you it's going to be awfully hard to get to the real solution," he said.

Research of pain management and treatment is the fourth step. Price said the National Institutes of Health are working to identify non-addictive pain medication.

Lastly, Price said treatment of patients will be examined. Price visited with tribal health care providers to see what can be done to ensure physicians are prescribing opioids only when necessary, while also decreasing the total amount prescribed.

"As a physician, I know there were many times when I would write a prescription for opioids appropriately -- pain medication appropriately -- but you never were sure where those were going to end up," he said.

In the press conference, Baker asked that Price and the Trump administration continue to "tour communities like ours and keep the opioid crisis a continued priority."

"You can't talk about opioids too much," said Baker. "It's just too important."


(c)2017 the Tahlequah Daily Press (Tahlequah, Okla.)

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