SPOKANE, Wash. — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited Washington state on Thursday to meet with local tribes regarding the opioid epidemic. Zinke met with the Spokane Tribal Business Council and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
"While the opioid crisis affects every community in America," said Secretary Zinke, "More often than not, tribal communities are disproportionately affected."
Tribal communities across the country have filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors—even pharmacies—for the role that the tribes say those companies have played in creating or worsening the crisis. The Yurok Tribe of Northern California notably filed such a lawsuit earlier this month. That lawsuit joins others from tribes in Washington state, South Dakota, and Oklahoma, to name a few.
According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "American Indians and Alaska Natives" had the highest drug overdose death rates in 2015 (the last year studied), and the largest percentage change increase in the number of deaths over time (519 percent in rural areas). They also topped a number of the preceding years in death rates.
Secretary Zinke has been drawing attention to initiatives by the Trump administration aimed at addressing the crisis—like launching CrisisNextDoor.gov and Opioids.gov. The former allows survivors to share their stories, while the latter provides statistics on the epidemic and highlights what the Trump administration has done to combat it.
"The President and I have prioritized combating the epidemic through education, treatment, enforcement, and of course support," said Secretary Zinke.
The Secretary of the Interior met with an inter-tribal council in Phoenix, Arizona on Monday. On Tuesday, Secretary Zinke met with the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin. Friday will see him meeting with the Lummi Tribe in northwest Washington state.
"We are looking at how Interior can best support tribal law enforcement in cracking down on drug dealers through a joint task force and how best to support community-based treatment. We strongly believe the best holistic approach will be at the community and tribal level, and we are looking at ways to create programs that engage the women in the tribes because women are the life-givers and hold special places in the community."
Earlier this week I met with Tribal Nations in Arizona and Wisconsin about the #OpioidCrisis. Today and tomorrow meetings in Washington State. The #OpioidCrisis touches every community. We have to fight it together. 🤝 pic.twitter.com/3jr8sx0AK0
— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) March 22, 2018