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University of Iowa to develop treatment for underserved groups

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 11:17 a.m. CDT

IOWA CITY (AP) — The University of Iowa has been selected to work with medical providers around the country to reform how American Indians and Alaska Natives are treated for addiction.

The school’s Department of Public Health was recently awarded a nearly $3.4 million federal grant to establish the National American Indian and Alaska Native Addiction Technology Transfer Center, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.

The five-year grant will help the center develop and replace protocols in substance abuse treatment centers with practices developed for American Indian and Alaska Native populations, said Anne Helene Skinstad, the center’s director and a clinical associate professor of community and behavioral health.

Iowa has a small population of both groups compared to other states, and much of the work will take place through webinars with professionals at top universities around the country. It is one of four centers in the country that will do research and train providers to work with groups of underserved populations, including Hispanic communities. Skinstad said UI has developed this kind of education throughout the Midwest since 1995.

“This is a population of five to six million people in this country,” she said. “They’re spread all over. The University of Iowa hasn’t necessarily been characterized by having focused on this, however, we started doing that very early, so we have several programs that we already are ready to roll out.”

The four centers are designed to improve services for specific underserved groups. Kim Johnson, co-director of the centers’ Network Coordinating Office in Madison, Wis., said current services often don’t meet the needs of groups like American Indians.

“There’s a much higher drop-out rate so they don’t get the care that’s appropriate for them,” she said.

Skinstad said the right care includes understanding the history of a group. With American Indians, that includes historical and generational trauma.

“It’s very important to understand that and respect the impact of trauma that this has had on the population,” she said.

Rose Weahkee, director of the Indian Health Service’s division of behavioral health, said rebuilding trust is important.

“We have to take a look at that and acknowledge that the historical policies have had an impact and previous attempts to eradicate American Indian and Alaska Native culture have oftentimes been associated with some of these negative mental health consequences,” she said.

Skinstad said effective treatment also incorporates feedback from the population.

“It’s a two-way: not just us coming in and telling them, ‘This is important and we’re going to adapt it,’ but we’re also going to help them promote their own practices that have shown great effectiveness in changing drug and alcohol problems in American Indian communities.”

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