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Flu season, fentanyl on HHS radar

HHS recently sent out a warning to tribal members through email about rainbow fentanyl. (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)

HOLLYWOOD – Flu season has begun and the Seminole Tribe’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has begun to administer the vaccine to tribal members six months and older.

“We encourage everyone to get it. The vaccine is very effective,” Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley, HHS executive director, said. “People do die from the flu, so it’s important.”

Tribal members can get the vaccine at the tribe’s health clinics in Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton and Immokalee.

Kiswani-Barley said it’s also important to take other preventative measures during flu season, such as covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing hands, avoiding contact with the eyes, nose and mouth, and staying home when sick.

HHS has also recently sent out a warning to tribal members through email about the “emerging threat” of rainbow fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and the source of an increasing number of overdoses and overdose deaths in the U.S. HHS said it is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Rainbow fentanyl is brightly colored to look like candy or sidewalk chalk and is targeted toward younger people.

“We want everyone to understand that it’s no joke,” Kiswani-Barley said. “Substance abuse is on the rise – we understand that some are dealing with trauma and depression – but substance abuse is not the way to go.”

Eligible tribal members can obtain a free Narcan nasal spray kit, which is used to treat a known or suspected opioid overdose emergency. In addition to fentanyl, other common types of opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine and methadone.

Kiswani-Barley said the Seminole Police Department and the tribe’s emergency medical services (EMS) personnel keep the kits on hand.

She said HHS has options for tribal members struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues.

Lately, Kiswani-Barley has been visiting off-reservation treatment facilities the tribe contracts with to make sure each is up to HHS standards. While most have passed the test, she said HHS has discontinued its relationship with some.

“We’re also looking at whether it’s feasible for the tribe to open its own treatment facility,” Kiswani-Barley said.

Further, HHS is in the process of hiring a staff psychiatrist, and a nurse practitioner that specializes in psychiatry.

“The pandemic has been a very stressful period for many,” Kiswani-Barley said.

For more information, call the HHS hotline at (833) 786-3458.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at