The federal Indian Health Service has failed to meet its own standards for prescribing opioids. That’s the takeaway from a federal audit released last week, by the inspector general of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
The report urges IHS to adopt 12 recommendations, including tracking all opioid prescriptions patients filled, even at outside pharmacies, and analyzing prescribing data to minimize dosages that exceed federal guidelines.
Charlie Headdress is the Vice Chairman for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. He says IHS clinics on the Fort Peck Reservation already follow agency requirements to use safeguards like informed consent contracts and drug monitoring databases. But he says drugs, including opioids, are still a problem.
“I mean people are walking around like zombies, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” says Headdress.
For thirty years, he worked as an administrator for the Indian Health Service, where he says opioid prescribing got out of hand starting in the 80s. But now, “They have put the skids on a lot of the abuse,” he says.
None of Montana’s 13 IHS facilities were referenced in the Inspector General’s report.
Anecdotally, Headdress says IHS’s facilities near him have prescribed opioids more responsibly in recent years, but he’s not sure it’s cut down opioid abuse.
“You know, I don’t think so, honestly because they can get it elsewhere, a lot easier than they can get it from their own clinics,” says Headdress.
The Indian Health Service did not respond to request for comment.