Tribal health leaders say the fentanyl crisis is tearing families apart on the Lummi reservation. They hope the new resources available on the reservation can be helpful.
LUMMI NATION, Wash. – The waters surrounding the Lummi reserve have stood the test of time.
The country has seen its trials Lummi people.
“I lost four family members in the last few years of my life to fentanyl,” said Joe Morrison, who has lived on the Lummi reservation most of his life.
Fentanyl took the life of Morrison’s brother, Lindy.
“Water is his oyster,” Morrison said. He loved fishing and always tried to stay on the water.”
Lindy’s patriotism is strong, but his fentanyl addiction is even stronger.
“We had a really good relationship until he got addicted,” Morrison said.
Fentanyl is highly addictive. It is 50 times stronger than heroin. It’s cheap, easy to buy, and is tearing the Lummi Tribe apart.
There is evidence of the crisis throughout town, with posters put up by the Lummi Youth Council to spread awareness of the crisis and offer words of hope.
Four Lummi tribe members died of fentanyl overdoses in one week in September. Morrison’s older brother, Lindy, was one of those four. He just got out of prison.
“He got out on August 29 and died on September 16 or 17,” Morrison said.
Morrison knows recovery will be difficult.
“You know, I was part of the problem,” Morrison said. “You know, I used to be a drug dealer. I live like a drug dealer. I went to prison in ’09.”
Morrison is a cocaine dealer. He said he received life-changing help from God.
“This Christmas will be 15 years,” Morrison said.
He now works as a peer advisor with Lummi Consulting Services.
“I just help them overcome obstacles in their recovery,” Morrison said.
The crisis is so severe that Lummi opened a treatment facility this spring, the New Life Center, dedicated to opioid addiction.
Deanna Point, Morrison’s wife, is the program’s interim director.
“We were shocked by the overdose and now I feel like, ‘Oh, there’s another overdose,’” Point said. It’s almost become normal for me to talk about it. Like, you know, it happens here a lot.”
The New Life Center has seven beds and is where people can go for help with withdrawal. They say having resources in place makes a difference. Add not only therapy and medication but also culture to the recovery process.
“You need that to heal, you need that to be whole,” Point said.
The center has a culture teacher and a culture room where people can reconnect with their heritage.
“Whether you’re holding that weaving tool right there or you’re just sitting here meditating, whether you’re just sitting here doing a project and learning, you know, this is what our ancestors did,” Point said. I did.”
Point knows this is important, she said culture and this culture room saved her life.
“I lost my daughter to spinal meningitis and it was the perfect way for me to not have to deal with that loss, and that’s when I fell into that spiral of addiction,” Point said.
Point’s parents were both alcoholics and she was addicted to oxycontin for more than 13 years.
“This program saved my life, my culture saved my life, my children saved my life,” Point said.
The pull of fentanyl is so strong that it has driven some people away from their families and homes. Dozens of Lummi people now live just outside the reserve, in a homeless camp.
“We had at least 40 community members living in that homeless encampment,” Point said. “That shows you the power of fentanyl, because we have never seen our people actually leave the reservation and become homeless to feed their habit or addiction.”
The camp is now called “Little Lummi.” Recovery coaches from Lummi Counseling Services come to camp each week to do community outreach. Point’s team says there are four to eight overdoses in the campground each day. People living in the camp use Narcan to revive each other.
Lummi tribal member Jade Ridley was at camp when an outreach worker asked if she wanted help from the New Life Center.
“It’s not really a question,” Ridley said. “I heard good things about this place so I took a chance and came.”
After 10 years of fentanyl addiction, she took this step for herself and her 13-year-old child. The day we spoke to her, she said she had been sober for a week.
“It’s exhausting living on the streets and I just want my life back, I want my daughter back,” Ridley said.
Ridley said withdrawing money was difficult, but the New Life Center made it easier.
“Everyone here is really hopeful and supportive, and I feel really grateful,” Ridley said. They made everything so much easier. They made me feel quite comfortable here, you know, they helped me settle in, a lot better than expected.”
Ridley’s father died of a fentanyl overdose last year. She said he died just two days after finishing treatment. But Ridley said she has the support of her family, like her uncle, who was one of the first people to be treated at the New Life Center.
“My uncle, his younger brother, was the first person to go through this place,” Ridley said. “And he was very encouraging. He has been clean for twelve weeks.”
Earlier this month, the tribe addressed the crisis from Washington state to Washington DC
“The impacts of fentanyl and opioids are very serious and profound,” Lummi Tribal Chairman Tony Hillaire said.
Chairman Lummi called on congressional leaders to declare the fentanyl epidemic a national emergency. He said more federal resources are needed and different tribes should not have to compete for grants to help their people. He said more law enforcement and recovery resources are needed.
“There are a lot of different issues in this, but if we start at the highest level maybe the United States of America declaring this a national emergency,” said Chairman Hillaire. I believe we can overcome many of the barriers we face.” to the Senate Committee.
Hillaire told the Senate committee that the tribe is looking to build a permanent drug treatment center because the New Life Center is often full. He said they have raised $15 million in funding but still need another $12 million.
Across Washington state, deaths from synthetic opioids are on the rise, and this is evident when looking at overdose deaths among American Indians/Alaska Natives in the state . According to the Washington State Department of Health, there were 24 deaths in this group from synthetic opioids in 2020. That number was nearly four times higher (92 deaths) in 2022.
In Washington state, American Indians/Alaska Natives are being hit the hardest of any ethnicity or race by the fentanyl crisis, with a disproportionately high death toll.
To fully understand this crisis, you must go back in time to the historical and generational trauma that Indigenous people have endured.
“As they say, you’re healing from seven generations ago, when we lost our culture and our language,” said Rosalie Scott, current director of Lummi Counseling Services.
Scott has lived on the reservation for 80 years and has worked in the rehabilitation industry for 50 years.
“I think there were about 600 people when I was growing up and it was just alcohol,” Scott said.
Scott said she feels the fentanyl crisis is a worse problem and called it “criminal.”
“I don’t know how to reach them, how to reach our people?” Scott said. “To bring them back?”
But don’t underestimate the Lummi beach people. For millennia, they have demonstrated their strength and resilience, and this time is no different.
“It will take a lot of work and the community will have to do it, but we can do it,” Morrison said.