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Tribal Forum on Painkiller Addiction provides helpful resources to benefit Oklahoma and the nation

Dan Cross, Executive Director of Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services, tells the story of painkiller addiction in Oklahoma at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Expo. Photo provided

By Darla Shelden
Contributing Writer

A Tribal Forum on Painkiller Addiction will be held on Thursday, June 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services, 1301 SE 59 St., in Oklahoma City. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) called prescription painkiller addiction an epidemic in the country, identifying Oklahoma as leading the nation in both addiction and related deaths.

The battle against such addiction in “Native America” is being led by Oklahoma tribal owned clinics, Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services (ASCS), Oklahoma City and Keetoowah Cherokee Treatment Services (KCTS), Tulsa.

“Natives have led the way in holistic approaches to health and environmental concerns, not as a recent development, but from their ancient ways,” said Dan Cross, ACSC Executive Director. “Whether it be herbal medicine that modern medical science has replicated pharmacologically, or holistic approaches to well-being that our best practices emulate, Native people have preceded modern technology. Now, it seems, Natives are leading the solution for this deadly wave of addiction sweeping over Oklahoma.”
As keynote speaker, Commissioner Terri White, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), will be addressing a forum of tribal leaders, health care, behavioral health, and social services personnel regarding the high prevalence of painkiller addiction.

White, an advocate for individuals experiencing mental illness and addiction, is on the forefront nationally in the advancement of recovery-based programs, technological innovations such as telepsychiatry, and the integration of behavioral health care into primary healthcare settings.

As commissioner, White oversees a statewide network of services dedicated to providing needed mental health and substance abuse services to all Oklahomans. Her agency has an annual budget of approximately $300 million, 1,800 employees and holds contractual relationships with over 100 private providers.
While painkiller abuse is relatively low for Black and Hispanic populations, it is just as prevalent among Native Americans as it is Whites, according to a 2011 CDC report.

Prescription painkillers are generally considered to be opiates.

There are 14 Opioid Treatment Programs (OTP) in Oklahoma certified by the Federal agency Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), including the Veterans Hospital in Oklahoma City.

“Everybody has heard that Oklahoma leads the nation in pain killer addition, but Oklahoma is leaving the rest of the country in the dust, and that is huge,” said Cross. “We’ve had enough headlines now that people are starting to get interested. The prevalence rate here is almost twice the national average.

The closest state is Oregon and Oklahoma’s painkiller addition is 19 percent greater than Oregon’s. In a two-year span, our prevalence for pain killer abuse grew 21 percent. Oklahoma had 240,000 people that abused painkillers last year, according to SAMHSA.”

Unfortunately, according to Cross most of the people who are ready for treatment are not being referred to Opoid treatment programs, but instead to traditional detox programs. “It’s the most expensive treatment that taxpayers pay for that leads to only a 6 to 10 percent affective outcome,” said Cross. “This is no way to handle this massive addiction. The idea is that all treatments are the same for all addictions, but they’re not. There’s a different way that opiates act on the brain.”

“Tribes lead the assault against this epidemic in Native America,” said Joe Jenkins, KCTS Clinical Supervisor. “These tribal programs serve both Native and Non-Native adults and accept Medicaid.”

“Ours is an abstinence-oriented program that uses medication to manage withdrawals while treating the underlying addition,” said Cross. “We’re seeing those people everyday. They don’t live on site; therefore they’re able to maintain their households and their jobs. We’re not asking them to leave all that. It’s an intensive outpatient regiment while they’re developing life skills, recovery skills, coping mechanisms, and a relapse prevention plan that secures their recovery for the long term. Making lifestyle changes along with all of this takes time.”

The importance of these OTPs result from SAMHSA’s findings that the medication assisted treatment is 70-75 percent effective with opiate addiction, compared to the traditional substance abuse treatment of 6-10 percent. This more effective treatment allows many individuals to forego inpatient detox. That lets them avoid the expense, time off work and away from family, and the waiting list to get admitted.

“The average age of those entering the program is dropping,” said Cross. “In the beginning, older patients dealing with chronic pain were getting addicted, but now more and more we’re getting younger professional people.”

Native tribes lead the best practice initiative treating the epidemic of painkiller addiction in Native America Oklahoma. One such program was selected by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to use as video instruction for their agents and other providers regarding how to run these programs.
“The purpose of this event is to help tribes develop a community response to the painkiller addiction crisis,” said Cross. “The development of early detection, intervention, and referral pathways in communities is key to minimizing the destruction that is foreseeable in this epidemic of addiction.”

“Prescription drug abuse is an issue that impacts the wellness of our state,” said Jeffrey Dismukes, Director ODMHSAS Public Information. “It is imperative that communities recognize this problem and begin working to find a solution. The tribal forum is an excellent opportunity to build partnership, discuss available resources and begin talking about strategies that will benefit Oklahoma.”

“This is the first statewide program for mobilizing communities to address this issue,” said Cross. “It’s really appropriate in Native America that tribal nations are leading the way to fight this epidemic.”

Robin Coffey’s Total Care Solutions will provide lunch. Registration is required due to limited seating. Contact Dan Cross at [email protected] to register. For more information visit and

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