UI professor’s grants will help native communities combat alcohol, drug addictions

A series of HHS grants awarded to a professor at the College of Public Health will focus on holistic training and services aimed at aiding Native American tribes in fighting alcohol and opioid abuse and promoting mental health.


James Year

The College of Public Health Building is seen on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017.

Christopher Borro, News Reporter

A University of Iowa professor has received a series of grants to develop strategies for alcohol and drug prevention in Native American communities totaling $9.5 million across five years.

Anne Skinstad, a clinical professor of community and behavioral health and the grant recipient, serves as the director of the Addiction Technology Transfer Center projects. The center is a coalition of programs aimed at helping Native American communities combat drug and alcohol addiction.

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services, provided the grants. They will be used to aid the National American Indian/Alaska Native ATTC, the Tribal Affairs TTC, and the Tribal Affairs Prevention TTC. The three centers received $4 million, $3 million, and $2.5 million, respectively. 

The center underwent a three-month gap in funding in 2017 while they had to realign in Health & Human Services regions, but a new funding cycle began in January the following year, Skinstad said.

The ATTC network was founded in 1993, and Skinstad received her first grants, aimed specifically at serving Iowa, two years later. In 1998, it expanded to serve what is now called the Great Plains Area of the Indian Health Service, covering Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

“The ATTCs were developed to support the substance-abuse workforce in their efforts to implement evidence-based services,” Skinstad said.

Evidence-based practices are combined with experience-based and knowledge-based techniques at the ATTCs in order to better translate Western technology and research into strategies that have effective results for the Native American demographics they serve, Skinstad said.

It’s a huge, huge problem. Suicide epidemics in Indian communities are overwhelming.

— Anne Skinstad

Native culture better lends itself to oral traditions and accumulative knowledge, and the job of her project is to equip tribal communities to combat alcohol and drug addiction using those practices.

“If we’re looking at the culture from a Native American standpoint, substance abuse does not fit within the culture … there isn’t always a place for alcohol,” said Sean Bear, a co-director of the ATTCs. “Because of teachings and beliefs and things like that, it doesn’t mix very well.”

Bear listed ropes courses, archery training, canoeing, and hiking as some of the more culturally oriented opportunities the projects provide to help individuals, particularly youth, stay away from more damaging pastimes.

In order to best aid the communities they serve, the ATTCs offer in-person training and help grow the workforce in tribal areas.

The centers also support them remotely by hosting webinars to cover various issues and by creating a newsletter.

“When we cover a topic, we like to highlight a program somewhere in the country that’s doing it well, specifically serving Native communities,” said Kate Thrams, a research support coordinator who works as a media specialist for the projects.

Of the 573 nationally recognized tribes across the country, Skinstad said, the projects assist 137 of them. Beyond alcohol or opioid addiction, there are also programs in place targeted at youth that aid tribal communities in responding to incidents of school shootings and adolescent suicide.

“It’s a huge, huge problem,” Skinstad said. “Suicide epidemics in Indian communities are overwhelming.”