Cherokee Nation begins largest mental health investment in tribe's history

 

Last updated 3/20/2023 at 9:29am



MUSKOGEE, Okla.-In February, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner unveiled the tribe's first in-house drug treatment center during a ceremony at Three Rivers Health Center.

Construction will begin this year on the $18 million, 17,000-square-foot treatment center in Tahlequah. The tribe's first in-house drug treatment center is just one part of a historic, $100 million mental health investment as part of the Cherokee Nation's amended Public Health and Wellness Fund Act. The Council of the Cherokee Nation recently approved the amended Act, allowing Chief Hoskin to officially sign it into law.

"For over two decades, the opioid epidemic has plagued the Cherokee Nation Reservation and impacted every facet of our tribe and society. Hundreds of Cherokee Nation citizens have died from overdoses, and tens of thousands more have suffered," Chief Hoskin said. "It caused generational trauma and put the future of our nation at risk. Nearly a third of the opioids distributed in the state in recent years were shipped into Cherokee Nation, because irresponsible drug makers and distributors preyed on the rural communities across our reservation. Our Attorney General's Office pursued a lawsuit against the opioid industry. With those settlement funds, we will build this in-house treatment center and bolster our drug-addiction services, staff, programs and facilities across the Cherokee Nation Reservation. These efforts will help us bring some measure of relief, healing and justice to the Cherokee people."

Plans for the center include separate dormitories for men and women, and cultural amenities for residents, such as stickball fields, basketball courts, and more.

"The Council of the Cherokee Nation recently approved the $100 million amended Public Health and Wellness Fund Act. It will provide $73 million to construct facilities across the reservation over the next five years to meet behavioral health service needs," Deputy Chief Warner said. "It will also provide $5 million in scholarships to encourage more Cherokee citizens to enter behavioral health fields and work in the tribe's health system. The investment will also dedicate millions for recovery employment programs and innovative strategies for recovery."

The Public Health and Wellness Fund Act was initially passed in 2021 to dedicate 7% of third-party health insurance collections to physical and mental wellness programs, and its first amendment in 2022 locked down $15 million in opioid settlement funds for addiction treatment facility construction.

The newest amendment dedicates an additional $83 million in opioid settlement funds and nearly $2 million in settlement funds from e-cigarette maker Juul.

In total, the legislation allocates over $100 million in public health settlement funds as follows:

• $73 million to construct behavioral health facilities across the reservation.

• $5 million in scholarships to encourage more Cherokee citizens to enter behavioral health fields and work in the tribe's health system. 

• $10 million over 10 years to address employment and other economic barriers faced by citizens in addiction recovery.

• $10 million over 10 years to develop new addiction recovery programs.

Cherokee Nation

Rendering of the first Cherokee Nation in-house drug treatment center.

• $2.8 million "Smoking Cessation Fund," for the next eight years.

The opioid settlement was the result of historic litigation by the Cherokee Nation Attorney General's Office against manufacturers, retailers and distributors in the industry. The Cherokee Nation, which was the first tribe to initiate such litigation, has other cases pending.

Cherokee Nation also settled with e-cigarette maker Juul last year over the company's role in youth vaping.

Cherokee Nation Health Services is the largest tribally-operated health system in Indian Country, with more than 2 million patient visits per year. Its behavioral health system had over 44,580 patient visits in the past year, the largest number of patients for behavioral health services in Cherokee history.

 
 

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