Team of U of M Extension, College of Pharmacy, tribal health and rural counties public health receive the 2021 Priester Culture of Health Award
Rural America and the American Indian communities have been deeply and disproportionately affected by the rise in opioid-use disorders and overdose fatalities.
In 2018, a call to action by the USDA for Extension systems to address the opioid crisis nationally propelled colleagues and partners into action. They include University of Minnesota Extension; the College of Pharmacy; tribal health and county health agencies in Itasca, Aitkin, St. Louis and Pine counties; and the four tribal communities of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Bois Forte Band of Chippewa in Minnesota, and Lower Brule and Crow Creek in South Dakota.
Recently, the "opioid team" was awarded the 2021 Priester Culture and Health Award at the National Health Outreach Conference.
The opioid team has approached this work through a multidisciplinary lens. Each member brings their experience, expertise and vision to create a community-driven approach even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, 173 opioid prevention events included training, technical assistance, community outreach and engagement efforts.
Relationships are the core of the work.
The American Indian Resource and Resiliency Team (AIRRT) was created to support the needs of tribal communities that disproportionately suffer from opioid misuse. The members of AIRRT are tribal members who have trusted relationships within their communities, understand disparities within the communities, and have been able to build on their community’s strengths in culturally informed ways while addressing emerging needs.
“We’re native people working with native communities, we’re speaking the same language, on the same page. We have shared understandings of ourselves and our communities and we’re able to get to the heart of what the work is instead of spending months and months of wondering whether we should trust each other and what the motives are,” says Jennifer Garbow, Family Resiliency Extension educator who provides leadership to the AIRRT.
Every community has unique needs and is in a different place in addressing the opioid crisis; trusting relationships with the community are often needed before these needs are expressed to the University.
"We need to listen, listen and listen some more to understand what is needed," says Mary Jo Katras, Extension program leader for Family Resiliency. "Addressing the opioid crisis effectively must consider social determinants of health, including historical trauma, and must be done with the community rather than 'to the community.'"
A core feature of this work has been supporting staff and community members called "changemakers" who have a deep understanding of how history, culture and local context play a role in risk factors in regard to substance use disorders.
"Our community partners have connected the team to stakeholders in each county and helped to identify their specific education and training needs," says Katras. "Together, we are building sustainable recovery-friendly communities to help individuals and families in recovery thrive."