April is Alcohol Awareness Month. The monthly observance was started by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in 1987 to “help reduce the stigma so often associated with alcoholism by encouraging communities to reach out to the American public each April with information about alcohol, alcoholism, and recovery.” The Indian Health Service (IHS) is addressing the effects of alcohol misuse by providing a comprehensive array of preventive, educational and treatment services.
The IHS Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program nurtures excellence in holistic approaches that promote healthy lifestyles, families, and communities. Programs address alcohol misuse by improving access to behavioral health services.
In 2017, IHS received $2,000,000 in grant and contract funding to provide alcohol or drug treatments services to Indians, including detoxification services. IHS used the funds to focus on the provision of services in the Navajo and Great Plains IHS Areas to address alcohol-related deaths occurring in communities that were in need of urgent substance abuse treatment, residential services, and detoxification services. Preventing Alcohol-Related Deaths (PARD) through Social Detoxification is an IHS cooperative agreement that serves to increase access to community-based prevention strategies to provide social detoxification, evaluation, stabilization, fostering patient readiness for and entry into treatment for alcohol use disorders and when appropriate, other substance use disorders.
Recognizing the need to support the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and their determination to fight alcohol abuse, the IHS awarded the tribe a $500,000 grant to support social detoxification efforts. Since receiving the award, the tribe has hired two medical doctors to assist with detoxification. The tribe is also working with the Pine Ridge Indian Health Service Unit to collaborate and assist with this effort to reduce deaths and adverse outcomes associated with alcohol use. The funding is to enhance and improve detoxification services in Pine Ridge.
The city of Gallup in New Mexico has also struggled with alcohol-related issues with a disproportionate number of individuals dying due to alcohol-related events. The IHS responded to this need though a $1.5 million cooperative grant that provided the city of Gallup, New Mexico, with much-needed funds to develop initiatives to prevent deaths related to alcohol use. The city has expanded shelter capacity by providing 60 beds with the goal to have 90 beds by the fall of 2018. At the shelter, meals are provided, and hygiene kits are distributed in addition to evaluation and stabilization. Additionally, the city has contracted with the Gallup Police Department to provide transportation from Gallup Indian Medical Center Emergency Department to Na Nihzhoozhi Center Inc. (NCI) Detox in Gallup, New Mexico. As part of the initiative, NCI will include a high-risk unit, a first step program, outpatient therapy and case management. The high-risk unit is designed to provide medically complex patient triage; coordination with Gallup Indian Medical Center to ensure clients are keeping scheduled appointments; access to medications; medication schedule reminders; safe storage of medications; and transportation to scheduled appointments. Currently, the unit is fully staffed and accepting and treating patients.
The awards are for a 3-year period and demonstrate how cooperation between IHS and communities can dramatically impact the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives around the significant issue of alcohol use disorders. This type of targeted funding can serve as a model to develop best practices and increase availability to all levels of holistic care in treating alcohol use.