UArizona will help local substance-use recovery program reach more Native American women

two hands holding a feather and a bowl during a smudging ceremony

Clients in The Haven's Native Ways Program receive treatment culturally tailored to Native Americans, which can include ceremonies and practices such as smudging, a rite that involves the burning of sacred herbs, such as sage.

A University of Arizona research institute will help a Tucson substance use treatment center expand its programming with the goal of becoming the go-to resource for Native American women in recovery.

New Dawn-Warrior Women, a project led by the UArizona Southwest Institute for Research on Women, is helping expand the reach of the existing Native Ways Program, which is run by The Haven, a treatment center in midtown Tucson that serves women. The Native Ways Program helps Native American clients with substance use recovery while incorporating Native American culture and traditions.

The institute, known as SIROW, is a research institute based in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences whose mission involves addressing social and public health issues to improve the well-being of women and girls.

Brenda Granillo

Brenda Granillo

A $1.1 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – will support New Dawn-Warrior Women over the next three years. Brenda Granillo, an associate research social scientist at SIROW, is principal investigator for the project.

The grant, which began in September 2022, has allowed The Haven to expand the Native Ways Program to an additional 135 clients, Granillo said, by funding the hiring of a program manager and additional therapists, and boosting its outreach to all of Arizona's 22 federally recognized tribes.

SIROW has a long-standing partnership with The Haven, providing harm reduction services, evaluating the center's programs and providing research-supported feedback to improve the programs' offerings and reach, Granillo said.

The need to support specifically women with substance use recovery is clear, Granillo said, noting that there are only four recovery programs in Pima County that serve specifically women, two of which are offered by The Haven. The county's 2022 population was more than 1 million, of which 50.5% – about 534,000 – was female, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Recovery programs must be tailored to each client – including their cultures and traditions – to be most effective, said Granillo, who has spent her career collaborating with tribal communities on public health emergency preparedness and response.

"The need for Native Ways was there because the women who were enrolled for The Haven's services would come in for a couple days and leave because their cultural practices weren't tied into their treatment," Granillo said. "That led to asking, 'Why are we missing the target here?'"

Death rates from drug overdoses are particularly high among Native American communities. A December report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native people had the highest drug overdose death rates in 2020 and 2021. Those rates were 42.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2020 and 56.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2021. Overdose death rates among white people, by comparison, were 33.1 per 100,000 in 2020 and 36.8 per 100,000 in 2021.

The Native Ways Program offers both residential and outpatient treatment – allowing clients to receive care while residing at The Haven's campus or at home – and transitional housing, a temporary arrangement that helps people who are homeless find permanent housing.

Clients in the program receive treatment culturally tailored to Native Americans, which incorporates traditional Native American ceremonies and practices. This can include smudging – a rite that involves the burning of sacred herbs, such as sage – and other blessing ceremonies. The program's staff members are experts in substance abuse services that specifically serve Native Americans.

"We're beyond thrilled for our partnership with SIROW," said Aimee Graves, president and CEO of The Haven. "The Haven is committed to addressing our community's needs through leveraging partners across sectors. We know there's a need for a substance use treatment program that specifically serves Native American women and creates a space where they can feel whole and respected. It has been wonderful to see how the New Dawn-Warrior Women project has enhanced our clients' lives during the past year and we're excited to see what the next two years will bring."

The grant will also allow SIROW to bring its sexual health education offerings to Native Ways, and Pima County's sexually transmitted infection testing services will be available for free to the program's clients. There are also plans to create an alumni program that pairs current Native Ways participants with those who have been through the program to offer peer support.

"As a public land-grant research university in a state with 22 federally recognized tribes, the University of Arizona has a responsibility and a commitment to partner with Native Nations in ways that honor their sovereignty and serve their students and communities," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "I'm proud to see that Dr. Granillo and her team are involved in an effort that supports Indigenous women on their path to recovery in ways that recognize and value their unique cultures and traditions. One of the university's priorities is enriching life for all, and this work is a great example of how we are doing that." 

As she looks ahead to the next three years of the grant, Granillo said she hopes The Haven and the Native Ways Program become the first resources Indigenous women in Arizona think of when they're in need of substance-abuse recovery support.

"Success in my eyes is when women across the state who are Indigenous from any tribe know right away that The Haven offers these services," she said.