Kenai Peninsula Borough tribes get federal grant to address opioid abuse

the Dena'ina Wellness Center
The Dena’ina Wellness Center is the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s medical campus, in Old Town Kenai. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

Tribes in Alaska are getting more federal funding to fight opioid misuse in their communities, Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced last week.

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe will get $499,002 from the Tribal Opioid Respond program, which sends money to tribal health providers nationwide so they can coordinate recovery services locally.

Craig Ward is director of behavioral health at the tribe. He said recovery services offered through the Kenaitze tribe fold culture into care.

“We want people to build on the strengths of their tribal identity so that they can achieve that goal of ending their addictive behavior,” he said. “And that means a connection to this identity within them that is stronger than their addiction.”

There aren’t up-to-date statistics available about the scope of the opioid problem on the Kenai Peninsula — though it is ramping up statewide, as the rate of deaths related to overdoses in Alaska continues to climb with the increased presence of the deadly opioid fentanyl.

And Ward said it’s hard to quantify the population in recovery that the Kenaitze Indian Tribe is serving. He said people come in through a number of different doors, all of which can have a big part to play in the recovery journey.

“Someone who comes to an education drum circle and participates in a drumming event gets an experience that is helpful toward their becoming a whole person again,” Ward said. “And that can be as important in their ultimate recovery than anything we do in this building.”

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe has been getting grant funding through the federal program since 2018.

Ward said the tribe has always used those funds to bridge the tribe’s behavioral health team, medical providers and traditional healers to help patients through recovery holistically.

“We also need to keep our providers up to date,” Ward said. “So the grant helps us fund the training for those providers.”

The money from this grant will also be used to create temporary housing vouchers and fund transportation so patients have access to outpatient treatment. Ward said that’s important as affordable housing becomes harder to get and access to transportation stays an issue, locally.

The grant also helps fund a digital therapeutics program, Ward said, where patients at any hour of the day can be connected to services.

The Ninilchik Village Tribe is also getting $249,972 through the program. The tribe has clinics in Ninilchik, Anchor Point and Homer.

Behavioral Health Aide Annette Hubbard said the grant is a good way to cover gaps in services.

“We use our grant to pay for a lot of things we can’t bill for, per se,” Hubbard said. “Like peer support.”

Peer supports are people who have battled addiction and work with those who are currently in recovery. Hubbard said as it stands, peer support is billable through behavioral health services — which can make reimbursements for services challenging, since the tribe offers peer support through its primary care arm.

Hubbard said they’re also using the money for case management, as well as education on current trends and treatment guidelines.

The other Kenai Peninsula Borough-based tribe getting funding through the program is the Native Village of Tyonek. The village is getting approximately $250,000 to address opioid response there.

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