You are here
Home > Community > HHS roundup: overdose prevention; health exams

HHS roundup: overdose prevention; health exams

Narcan is used to treat known or suspected opioid overdoses. (Image via Facebook)

The Seminole Tribe’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS) enters the summer months with an ongoing concern about opioid overdoses and with advice for tribal members to stay up-to-date with health exams.

HHS executive director Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley said her department continues to educate the tribal community on the dangers of opioid overdose and to be aware of how Narcan can help in emergency situations.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to increase Narcan accessibility so that people can be saved,” she said. “The overall goal is to achieve sobriety and maintain it, but sometimes we’re not as successful as we hope.”

Eligible tribal members can get free Narcan nasal spray kits, which are used to treat a known or suspected opioid overdose emergency. Common types of opioids include fentanyl, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine and methadone.

Kiswani-Barley said the Seminole Police Department and the tribe’s emergency medical services (EMS) personnel keep Narcan kits on hand. One idea that’s being discussed, she said, is to place Narcan distribution boxes at different points on the reservations, similar to the way college campuses have emergency telephone boxes available for students to call for help.

“We would put them somewhere in the community so people know where they are,” Kiswani-Barley said. “Sometimes overdoses don’t happen in a home; it could be in a parking lot, for example.”

She said another idea is to distribute Narcan to households where known opioid users reside, but who aren’t actively seeking help.

HHS saw an increase in opioid overdoses during the Covid-19 pandemic and it has continued post-pandemic. Kiswani-Barley said June 21 that out of a handful of overdoses in the previous couple months, three cases had individuals who ended up in an intensive care unit for treatment.

“All of [the overdoses] have been from illicit substances – cocaine, fentanyl. I don’t know if they knew they were taking fentanyl, because it is now being mixed with cocaine,” she said.

Health checkups, new staff

Kiswani-Barley said HHS is also encouraging tribal members to stay connected with their health clinics for annual exams and basic checkups. She said many people skipped such visits during the pandemic.

“It’s not unique to the tribe,” she said. “Everywhere nationwide during the pandemic people didn’t take as much care of themselves or didn’t take medicines as prescribed.”

The result, she said, is that cardiac, kidney, liver, hypertension, obesity and diabetes-related issues worsened. She said post-pandemic, however, there has been a slight uptick in traffic at the tribe’s medical facilities.

Kiswani-Barley also hopes the tribe’s youth will consider annual exams or basic health checkups.

“People usually come in when they’re older or have an ailment or a disease process that is already in a later stage,” Kiswani-Barley said. “If we could have the younger folks come in routinely as part of the norm, we can find things early on. I can’t stress enough the need for early intervention. Prevention and intervention will increase life expectancy.”

Meanwhile, HHS had added some new staff members to its roster. Kiswani-Barley said the Big Cypress health clinic and the Brighton health clinic both welcomed new nurse practitioners June 26. In addition, the Immokalee health clinic has a new nurse case manager who started June 26. The clinic will also welcome a new nurse practitioner sometime in July.

The new nurse practitioner in Brighton will replace Melanie Mello, who is set to retire in September after 20 years at the tribe, 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