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U.S. News

Prescription Drugs "Newest Monster" in Indian Country

July 21, 2009

Prescription drug misuse is becoming more common in Indian Country, and some health care providers are linking it to increases in hepatitis C infections.

When Erma Skunkcap began working as a substance abuse counselor at Crystal Creek, a Browning, Mont., treatment center, "it was all alcohol," she recently told a local forum on prescription drug abuse. "Then we got a new monster: meth. And now we have the newest monster, prescription drugs, and it's affecting everyone."

Only two of the facility's 12 patients are alcohol-dependent, said Kathy Mountain Chief, a nurse at Crystal Creek. "The rest are prescription drug abusers," she said. Many buy the prescription drugs illegally and grind them up to snort or inject them intravenously, Mountain Chief said. "Because of that, our rates of hepatitis C are climbing, and most of them are IV prescription drug abusers."

In prescription drugs alone, hepatitis C patients cost the Indian Health Service hospital in Browning $15,000 a year on average, compared with about $300 for the average patient, said its director Jim Kennedy.

"Hundreds of people are out there seeking help," said Skunkcap. "We see a lot of pregnant women who are all on pills, snorting them or shooting them up, and a lot of their babies are born in withdrawal."

"People here are living on fixed incomes, and in law enforcement I'm seeing people selling their pills to pay the bills, to pay their light bills and to put gas in their cars," said Leatha Kipp of the tribal justice department.

Montana has recorded 300 deaths from prescription drug misuse in each of the past eight years, said Mark Long, narcotics bureau chief for the state Justice Department. That is more than homicides and traffic deaths combined, "and I suspect the true number is much higher than 300," Long said.

Future community forums are planned on the problem and possible solutions.

Back to other news for July 2009

Adapted from:
Great Falls Tribune
07.10.2009; Eric Newhouse

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Native Americans & HIV/AIDS