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Working with families and providing aftercare are critical to fighting addiction on North Dakota Indian Reservations, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Thursday after meeting with counselors at a drug treatment center in New Town.

She said she and others have come to the conclusion that a law enforcement-only approach to addiction won’t work. Nor will treatment and detox. Without aftercare and jobs, “we aren’t likely to be successful,” she said.

Heitkamp said she found it educational to speak with drug and alcohol counselors, conceding that most of her discussions about addiction treatment and behavioral health happen with policymakers.

Counselors told her that engaging families is an important part of lasting treatment, noting that families can be in denial about an addiction or grow to accept it.

“You have to change the environment that people come home to,” she said.

Heitkamp said the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation’s Circle of Life Drug Treatment Center, an outpatient counseling and drug treatment center, is overwhelmed by calls, sometimes having to turn down people who want help. Because many tribal members are uninsured, the center has trouble billing for its services and getting enough funding to hire staff.

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Heitkamp links rising substance abuse on MHA Nation to the oil boom, which brought more heroin and methamphetamine to the state. She noted that the problem is not unique to the reservation, but that the reservation presents “unique challenges and unique responsibility of the federal government.”

In the Minot region, which neighbors the MHA Nation, heroin and methamphetamine use have increased by 400 and 438 percent in the past year, her office reported in a release. 

“If we start from the perspective that what happens at Standing Rock or on Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara doesn’t matter, that’s not who we are as North Dakotans,” she said.

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Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at caroline.grueskin@bismarcktribune.com

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