The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has become the first tribal nation to adopt a tool that gives real-time updates on where and when people are overdosing on drugs — essential knowledge in an ever-shifting and ever-raging drug epidemic.
“Collaboration and real-time data help save lives and drive short and long-term decisions,” Anita Lossiah, secretary for the Cherokee Police Commission and policy analyst for the EBCI, said during an April 13 Police Commission meeting. “So if we know what is actually happening on the ground in real time, then we are able to know if there's an outbreak of a bad drug in one highly dense area, or if it's more of a regional thing that we need to partner with local jurisdictions to try to make a bigger impact.”
The tool, called Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program — or ODMAP — is a federal database currently used by all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. It’s also used by 28 tribal nations, but the EBCI is the only one using the API data entry method, which ensures that data is added and updated in close to real time. The system logs the date, time and location of reported overdoses, as well as whether naloxone was administered and whether the overdose was fatal or nonfatal. These metrics are imported from data the tribe is already collecting. The tribe has the option to add other data fields in the future as well.
“It pulls that data into what we’re calling a tribal hub of data so that that can be provided to our tribal government for reporting, for analysis, for our internal purposes, but also again these fields that are required for this federal database can just be automatically transported to their database for larger purposes,” Lossiah sai d in an interview.
North Carolina law enforcement agencies also use the real-time version of ODMAP, so the database can help improve communication and coordination between jurisdictions. For example, if law enforcement in Jackson County logged a spate of overdoses on county land near Cherokee, tribal law enforcement could quickly take action to prevent or respond to any related overdoses on tribal land.
The ODMAP project grew from a policy development initiative that Tribal Council approved with the goal of strengthening tribal governance. As a result, the EBCI Emergency Services Office starting using ODMAP shortly before the Coronavirus Pandemic emerged.
At that time, employees were entering the data manually. Then the tribe received a $650,000 federal grant from the Federal Comprehensive Opioid Stimulation and Substance Abuse Program to develop its internal ability to collect and compile data and to export as needed in near-real time. This allowed the tribe to expand ODMAP access to other tribal programs, including the Cherokee Indian Police Department, and to move away from manual data entry. Since March, the system has pulled overdose data from information that is already being collected.
The tribe’s expanded use of ODMAP comes as law enforcement continues to combat a raging drug crisis. During the Cherokee Police Commission’s April 13 meeting, Assistant Police Chief Josh Taylor said the department had averaged 53 calls for service a day over the past month, many of them due to drugs or drug-related crimes. The CIPD seized 605 grams of marijuana, 16 grams of cocaine and 49.7 grams of opiates during that time.
“Fentanyl is absolutely crushing us,” Taylor said. “We administer so much Narcan. There’s people that we’ve had to Narcan eight or nine times. It’s to the point where that individual don’t even go to the hospital no more. It’s very disturbing that that’s the mindset we have.”
Taylor said he now considers Narcan to be essential equipment for a day on the job.
“We use our Narcan almost as much as we use handcuffs,” he said.