TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner announced Thursday a proposed plan to use the tribe’s initial opioid settlement funds to start constructing drug treatment centers for tribal citizens, as well as increase overall funding for wellness programs.

Chief Hoskin and Deputy Warner’s proposal would amend and strengthen the Public Health and Wellness Fund Act of 2021.

The proposed law would earmark $15 million in initial opioid settlement money over the next three years to help construct drug treatment facilities in the Cherokee Nation Reservation.

“It is all together fitting that the same industry that inflicted so much injury and generational trauma on our Cherokee people is now paying to help build facilities that will generate hope and give our citizens a welcome space here at home to focus on healing,” Chief Hoskin said. “We will make steps in phases. We are developing long term plans for a comprehensive behavioral health system that features in patient and out patient services. But, in the meantime we need to start building facilities to provide other tiers of treatment for those dealing with addiction, such as transitional living centers.”

The Cherokee Nation finalized a $75 million settlement with opioid distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen to be paid over six years.

In a separate settlement, a tentative agreement with Johnson & Johnson was reached with all federally-recognized tribes for $150 million. The Cherokee Nation estimates receiving $18 million over two years.  

The tribe is evaluating uses for the remaining opioid settlement funds, which will likely be used for additional behavioral health capital projects.

“There are a number of facilities, from in-patient to out-patient to residential centers that Cherokee Nation must construct in order to create a comprehensive drug treatment system,” Chief Hoskin added. “The First Lady, January, and I, as well as Deputy Chief Warner and our health leadership team, have visited various residential treatment facilities to better understand the best strategies for providing comfort, culture and healing to those struggling with addiction. By dedicating some of our opioid settlement funds to these types of programs, we can start putting ideas into action.”

In addition to setting aside initial opioid funds for treatment facilities, the amended Public Health and Wellness Fund Act would also generate more funding for wellness programs by broadening the type of third party revenue that Health Services sets aside.

The proposed legislation maintains the 7 percent set aside of third party revenue, but the expanded definition of third party revenue is expected to exceed the estimated $12 million annual target of the original law.

Among the new programs funded by the law is a harm reduction program opening soon in Tahlequah to assist those currently struggling with addiction stay as safe and healthy as possible while they seek a path to recovery.

“Good health for our Cherokee people means having good mental health just as it does physical health,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “I’m confident strong investments in both areas will have lasting impacts in not only increased physical health but also help us reverse the damage done by the opioid industry which preyed on our citizens.”

Physical wellness programs that will receive operating funds under the act include a planned $10 million wellness center in Stillwell and a $10 million community center in Kenwood for which the tribe recently broke ground. 

A wellness task force, led by former Cherokee Councilman Canaan Duncan, was also empaneled by Chief Hoskin and will make recommendations for other physical wellness programs and services across the tribe’s 7,000 square mile reservation.

If the Public Health and Wellness Fund Act is approved by the Council of the Cherokee Nation, the tribe’s Health Services will evaluate potential sites for construction. The location and number of facilities will then be determined.

The proposed legislation goes before the Council’s Health Committee on April 11 and could be approved by the full Council later that day. 

“Drug addiction impacts all of us. We are making progress in the Cherokee Nation to address this very difficult and very important issue. The Public Health and Wellness Fund Act will help us make major strides to bring healing to our people,” said Councilor Mike Dobbins, the Health Committee Chair and the legislation’s lead sponsor.