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WA passes bills to fight addiction in tribal communities

by By Renee Diaz, Columbia Basin Herald
| March 25, 2024 1:35 AM

OLYMPIA —The Washington State Legislature passed a package of bills that aims to promote health equity across the state. 

The slate of bills and fiscal actions is a motion to support Washingtonians under the banner of “Heal One Washington.” The program is an attempt by the legislature to solve disproportionately high rates of fatalities among Indigenous peoples and Alaska Natives.

The collaboration to address health concerns was led by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Anacortes, one of the first Indigenous women to serve in the Legislature, in partnership with Vicki Lower of the American Indian Health Commission, Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent, and Rep. Chris Stearns, D-Aurburn. 

“These legislative victories signify a significant step forward in our ongoing commitment to ensuring equitable access to quality health services for all Washingtonians. By prioritizing collaboration and recognizing the sovereignty of tribes, we are not only addressing the urgent needs of today but also laying the foundation for a healthier and more resilient future for generations to come,” said Lekanoff.

House Bill 1877 aims to integrate tribal government policies into the Involuntary Treatment Act. This integration seeks to mitigate opioid-related fatalities among American Indian and Alaska Native populations by fostering strategic partnerships between state and Tribal entities. 

Another measure, House Bill 2075 streamlines the licensing process for Native American health care providers focusing on enhancing access to behavioral health inpatient facilities operated by tribes. The bill simplifies the certification procedure to expand treatment options to address the opioid and fentanyl crisis in Tribal communities. 

To address the challenge of fugitives escaping justice by fleeing off a reservation, Senate Bill 6146 ensures due process protections and empowers tribes to address crimes, including the illicit sale of opioids and fentanyl within reservation boundaries. 

In addition to the bills, the budget allocates $900,000 to implement fentanyl prevention initiatives in tribal schools through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and $480,000 for the tribal opioid and fentanyl response task force under the Department of Health. 

Capital investments totaling about $55.2 million will be allocated toward tribal substance use disorder and behavioral health facilities supporting projects including treatment centers.

The American Indian Health Commission for Washington State (AIHC) is a tribally driven organization coordinating the health care delivery system for American Indians and Alaska Natives in Washington State. AIHC is dedicated to ensuring quality health care services and addressing health disparities in tribal communities.