Sen. Murray hosts opioid roundtable Puyallup Tribal Councilwoman Sylvia Miller describes opioid crisis on the reservation

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Sen. Patty Murray, with Puyallup Tribal Councilwoman Sylvia Miller at right, has been traveling the state hearing from local communities about how the opioid epidemic is hurting them. Photos by Kandis Spurling Photography.

Senator Patty Murray gathered with community leaders on May 30 at Step By Step Family Center in Puyallup for a roundtable discussion on how the opioid epidemic is impacting local communities.

“We know this is a crisis happening. I’m here today to hear exactly what’s happening in this community, to hear your stories,” she said.

With Murray were CHI Franciscan Health Regional Medical Director of Quality Assurance Nathan Schlicher; Charnay Ducrest, a methadone treatment peer counselor with Tacoma Pierce Community Health Department, and her client Taylor Berger; Pierce County Accountable Community of Health Chief Information Technology Officer Adam Aaseby; and Puyallup Tribal Councilwoman Sylvia Miller.

Step By Step Family Center Director Krista Linden said she was very pleased to offer the center for the roundtable, as the opioid epidemic hits close to home for her.

“The issue affects us greatly,” she said. “We have many moms who are addicted and having babies going to foster homes.”

The roundtable came on the heels of new legislation that Murray introduced in April with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 will improve the ability of the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), to address the crisis, including the ripple effects of the crisis on children, families and communities, and improve data sharing between states.

The legislation is the result of seven bipartisan hearings over several months, and feedback from the public. The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 builds on Murray’s efforts to provide communities the resources they need to respond to the crisis, and reflects priorities Murray has heard in communities across Washington state during visits with patients, families, medical providers and community leaders over the past few years.

Among its provisions, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 will not only reauthorize and improve grants to states for prevention, response, and treatment of the opioid crisis; it also earmarks funding for Indian tribes including the Puyallup Tribe. This provides a source of hope for Tribal Councilwoman Miller, who for many years has been on the front lines of helping our area’s homeless and addicted.

“As a sovereign nation, it’s really important that we have our own dollars,” Miller said in a post-roundtable interview, “and it’s important that we utilize those dollars in the right way – that they go toward the people. That’s the important thing,”

Opioid addiction is hitting particularly hard on the Puyallup reservation, with dealers under the impression that it’s “safer” there to deal illicit substances, according to Miller.

“That’s why we have so much more (dealing) on the reservation. They take these kids and they give them free drugs…and they’re out there trafficking these young kids and it’s not okay.” She told of families being torn apart, babies being born addicted, and children being sent to foster homes (often with non-Native families).

“Now, we’re trying to find ways to get them back on the natural stuff – the berries and roots that can heal them and other natural medicines like cannabis oils that suppress the craving for opiates. We’ve tried methadone, everything, and the cost of it is overwhelming but the Tribe keeps striving to get kids and adults and elders off opioids – it has affected us in every way, shape and form.”

It has also affected the Tribe’s traditional food sources, like salmon and shellfish that continue to test positive for opioids, as Miller pointed out. “Those fish that our people and everybody eats are getting these toxins. We’ve got to stop it somehow,” such as by reducing the number of homeless encampments along the Puyallup River where people’s waste goes into the water and into all forms of life that call the river home.

Miller is pushing for stiffer laws to help curb the opioid problem on the Puyallup reservation, and she and the rest of the Puyallup Tribal Council have been in discussions on this very topic.

“We need to make stiffer laws here on the reservation ourselves and keep working with the community,” as she explained it. “It’s not just Native Americans – we got them all over here.”

Actively reaching out to help the addicted and homeless is also key, Miller said, and she pointed to the Puyallup Tribe’s Flames of Recovery just off Portland Avenue, a residential house turned help center open to all homeless people where they can do laundry, bathe, enjoy hot meals and receive one-on-one help with things like getting a drivers license and entering treatment.

“They’re shown that somebody cares and will show them the way,” Miller said. “You can’t just point and say, ‘go over there’ or ‘go over here.’ We’ve been doing that too long. People have to care and get out there. We need to do everything we can to help.”

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