Duluth Campus Researcher Collaborates on First Known Opioid Fatality Review Involving a Tribal Nation

According to a report from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, American Indians in Minnesota are five times more likely to die from a drug overdose than Minnesotans overall.


The University of Minnesota Medical School’s Duluth campus serves a unique mission toward meeting the needs of rural Minnesota and Native American communities. Brenna Greenfield, PhD, LP, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health, is dedicated to improving American Indian health equity including finding innovative approaches and interventions on substance use disorder and the prevention of opioid overdose deaths.

“As a researcher, my priority is always to listen to what tribal communities would like to address and work on those topics from a strengths-based perspective,” Dr. Greenfield said. “The opioid crisis and opioid overdose deaths are a concern for tribal communities as they are for all Americans.”

The White Earth Nation’s Public Health/Behavioral Health Integration department, headed by Clinton Alexander, MPH, an enrolled White Earth Nation member, approached Dr. Greenfield and her team to help facilitate the research review. The partnership project secured funding support from the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) to initiate a NDEWS HotSpot study that would identify risk and protective factors for opioid overdose deaths for the White Earth Nation.

Some of those risk factors identified include historical trauma, jurisdictional issues and rurality. Focus groups were also able to establish protective measures, such as naloxone availability, community collaborations and culture. Moving forward, White Earth Nation will use this new healing research information to improve their cultural systems with the hopes of preventing more opioid overdose deaths.

“This was some of the most meaningful and challenging work I’ve done. But I wasn’t in it alone,” Dr. Greenfield said. “Our team, including partners from the Minnesota Department of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Drug Early Warning System, all worked together to make this project possible. Partnership and collaboration are key to address complex issues.”

The full NDEWS news release and HotSpot report can be found here.