How One Wisconsin Tribe is Battling the Addiction Epidemic

Photo credit: Lydi Dodge, tribe member. Angela Major/WPR.

As the opioid epidemic drags on, it continues to ravage communities across the US, leading to a heartbreaking number of overdose deaths. In Wisconsin, the Menominee Indian Tribe hasn’t been spared. But recent reporting has lit a glimmer of hope as their community stage a noble resistance. The tribe’s integrative approach to battling addiction blends evidence-based strategies, cultural wisdom, and community support, which has so far been successful in reducing overdose deaths and lighting a path to recovery.

The Menominee Indian Tribe is located in northeastern Wisconsin and has a population of around 8,000 members. For years, the community has struggled with addiction, with OD deaths reaching alarming levels. In response, the tribe has established a Drug Intervention Team, which works to prevent drug use and provide support to those struggling with addiction.

The Drug Intervention Team is made up of tribal members who have personal experience with addiction and recovery. They use their own experiences to connect with others who are struggling and show them a way out. The team provides a suite of services, including counseling, support groups, and referrals to treatment programs.

One of the Drug Intervention Team’s most significant successes has been its harm reduction approach. Harm reduction is a public health approach that aims to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use. Instead of promoting abstinence, harm reduction focuses on providing education, resources, and support to individuals who use drugs. This compassionate approach destigmatizes drug users and has been shown to be effective in reducing overdose deaths and other dark consequences of drug use.

The Drug Intervention Team has implemented several harm reduction strategies, including distributing naloxone, a life-saving medication that can bring someone back from a lethal overdose. They have also established a needle exchange program, which allows individuals who use drugs to safely dispose of used needles and receive clean ones. These programs have been vital in preventing overdose deaths and reducing the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

The tribe is also actively helping its members address the root causes of addiction. Trauma has long been correlated with addiction, and the Menominee Indian Tribe has had more than its fair share. Colonization, forced relocation, and other historical injustices create generational trauma and lasting impact. Tribe members recognize the links between old wounds and addiction and incorporate trauma healing into their treatment and prevention efforts.

Another innovative aspect of their strategy is the Healing to Wellness Court, which is a court program that focuses on addressing the underlying issues that drive addiction. The court uses a holistic approach to treatment, which includes counseling, cultural activities, and other forms of support. The Healing to Wellness Court has reduced recidivism and bolstered members’ efforts to maintain long-term recovery.

The tribe also leans on its roots by incorporating traditional healing practices, including smudging, sweat lodges, and other forms of ceremony. The tribe has integrated these practices into its addiction treatment and prevention efforts through the establishment of a Traditional Healing Program, honoring the sacredness of cultural identity in the recovery process.

The Menominee Tribe’s success in combating addiction is a powerful testament to the power of community-based solutions. By bringing together tribal members who have personal experience with addiction and recovery, the tribe has created a supportive and empowering environment for those who are struggling. As the opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities across the country, one tribe’s success serves as a beacon of hope for those who are still in the fight.

At Hope and Healing, we believe that any group doing wholehearted work to heal communities in pain deserves recognition for their tireless efforts. Like the Menominee Tribe, we take a holistic approach to healing. Our approach relies on facilitating a return to cultural identity through Native staff members that walk shoulder to shoulder with our clients through shared experience, professional training, and earned wisdom. The heart of our mission is helping each other find healing, find family, and ultimately join the fight against the sicknesses that harm our communities.

By paying equal respect to the Western clinical approach and traditional Native practices, our clients learn to stand tall and move beyond their struggles. We realize that the various approaches—from traditional counseling and pharmacology to medicine wheel and talking circle—all have incredible power to heal. We apply these practices with equal weight and depth, learning how to balance them in order to give our clients the fullest opportunity for sobriety.

There is never a better time to start than now. Let us handle the details so you can get the help you need.