FARGO - U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in Fargo on Thursday, July 26, that many American Indian tribes are in free fall due to overdose deaths involving opioids.
But he said multiple agencies are working together to battle the threat and he presented commendation awards to four law enforcement officers in North Dakota credited with saving the lives of people who overdosed on opioids.
Receiving the awards were Bureau of Indian Affairs Turtle Mountain agency law enforcement officers Stacey Larocque and Michael Slater and BIA Standing Rock agency law enforcement officers Wayland Bad Hand and Gary Sandland.
The officers, Zinke said, "are heroes and role models for every one of the department's 4,000 law enforcement officers."
Zinke added that opioid overdoses have taken a greater toll in tribal lands than in other communities in the country, and he said they are affecting "the fabric of the tribe itself."
He stressed that most of the drug dealers on reservations come from outside tribal communities, and he said the federal government is committed to finding and prosecuting those who sell drugs in Indian Country.
He said dealers will be sought out and prosecuted.
Zinke said for officers like those honored Thursday, "the call of duty" often takes them away from families and loved ones.
Based on information provided by federal officials:
Slater responded to a call to a home on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in New Town, and found a man unconscious and with no pulse.
He administered CPR until officer Larocque arrived and gave the victim Narcan, the term for a medication used to counter overdoses. The man gained consciousness after three doses and within minutes was responsive to first responders.
Bad Hand responded to a reported assault of a female on the Standing Rock Reservation and found an unresponsive woman showing signs of overdose.
Sandland arrived and retrieved Narcan from Bad Hand's patrol car and the woman regained consciousness after Bad Hand administered the medication. Sandland continued to assist by helping with an intravenous bag of Narcan emergency workers inserted in the woman's arm.
After Thursday's awards ceremony, Zinke met with officials from five North Dakota tribes to discuss specific ways the federal government can help reservations deal with the threat of opioid addiction.
Tribes taking part in the follow-up roundtable included: Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate; Spirit Lake; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; the Three Affiliated Tribes; and Turtle Mountain of Chippewa.
Zinke said President Donald Trump has made it clear that ending the opioid crisis is a top priority.
He said under Trump's leadership, the federal government is partnering with tribes to identify and prioritize community-based recovery solutions.
Earlier this year, Zinke established the first of its kind law enforcement Opioid Reduction Joint Task Force, which brings together officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, state and local law enforcement as well as tribal law enforcement.