December 23, 2019

Cortez Masto Cosponsors Legislation to Give Tribes More Resources to Respond to Opioid Epidemic and Mental Health Issues

Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) in introducing a bill to help tribal communities in Nevada and across the country access the resources they need to support people who are struggling with mental health or substance use issues.

“Substance use disorder has touched every corner of this nation, but few communities have been hit as hard as Native Americans and Native Alaskans. This legislation will empower tribes to provide quality, culturally competent care to treat addiction and behavioral health issues and help individuals on the path to recovery. I’m proud to join Senator Smith in this effort to honor our sacred trust responsibility to provide for the well-being of our tribal communities and ensure every American gets the care they deserve.”

In addition to Senators Cortez Masto and Smith, Senators Tom Udall (D-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) cosponsored the legislation.


Tribal communities have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. According to a leading health agency, American Indians and Alaska Natives experience some of the highest drug overdose death rates. However, many tribal communities don’t have the resources they need to tackle this public health crisis.

The Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act would create a behavioral health program to help tribes develop solutions that include culturally-appropriate efforts aimed at prevention, treatment, and recovery. This bill would set up the Special Behavioral Health Program for Indians—the SBHPI—modeled after the successful Special Diabetes Program for Indians.

A Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) was created in response to the diabetes epidemic in Native American communities. SDPI enjoys bipartisan support and has led to an impressive reduction in diabetes-related illness in Native American communities, including a 54 percent decrease in End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). SDPI shows that these communities see real health improvements when Congress provides them with the resources and local control needed to tackle public health emergencies. To combat the opioid epidemic and the broader behavioral health crisis in Indian Country, tribes need flexible funding to create behavioral health programs that meet the unique needs of their communities.

The Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act would:

  • Allow tribes to develop solutions that incorporate traditional and cultural practices into evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs; and
  • Establish that grant reporting standards be developed in consultation with tribes and provide tribes with technical assistance needed to develop programs and meet grant requirements.

You can access a summary of the bill here and text of the bill here.