Counseling for Harm Reduction and Retention in Medication-Assisted Treatment at Cherokee Nation (CHaRRM-CN)

Status: Current

Grant Start: 08/01/2019

Grant End: 07/31/2025

American Indian (AI) people are disproportionately impacted by the current opioid epidemic. AIs experience an 88% higher prevalence of opioid use disorder (OUD; 1.5%) than the US general population (0.8%), and AI people are second only to non-Latinx whites in their experience of opioid overdose deaths (13.9 and 17.5 per 100,000, respectively). Fortunately, medication-assisted treatment (MAT; e.g., buprenorphine + naloxone) is highly effective for reducing opioid- related harm, including overdose, making it the gold-standard OUD treatment approach. A recent systematic review, however, showed a median retention of 56% at the National Institute on Drug Abuse-recommended 12-month treatment length. Further, most AI people with OUD do not attend traditional substance-use treatment (62%). This is concerning because treatment retention is strongly associated with mortality rate reduction. Although no studies have documented OUD treatment outcomes specific to AI people, research in Native communities has generally highlighted concerns about the cultural acceptability of the highly directive, Western medical substance-use treatment approaches (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy, 12-step programming) that are widely available. Further, previous research has indicated that AI people with substance use disorders want greater representation of Native staff and better integration of culturally adapted approaches in the services they receive. Culturally adapted approaches to treatment are associated with reductions in use and associated problems. However, there are currently no evidence-based, culturally adapted counseling approaches for AI people addressing MAT retention and opioid-related harm. The Counseling for Harm Reduction and Retention in Medication-Assisted Treatment at Cherokee Nation (CHaRRM-CN) project will leverage recent federal OUD treatment initiative funding (SAMHSA TI-18-016, CDC-RFA-OT18-18030101supp) as a platform for culturally adapting substance-use counseling focused on improving MAT retention and reducing opioid-related harm within the Cherokee Nation Health System (CNHS). The 2-year R61 Phase will entail 2 parts. First, we will conduct a mixed methods inquiry to inform research methods and the community-specific, cultural adaptation of an existing, efficacious, harm-reduction counseling approach. Second, we will manualize and pilot the resulting CHaRRM-CN together with a community advisory board comprising CNHS providers, staff, and patients as well as researchers from Cherokee Nation, Washington State University, and the University of Washington. The subsequent, 3-year R33 Phase will entail a 2-arm RCT (N=160) conducted within CNHS testing the efficacy of CHaRRM-CN in improving 6-month MAT retention, reducing substance-related harm and illicit opioid use, and increasing Native enculturation compared to a services-as-usual control condition (i.e., cognitive behavioral treatment).


  • University of Washington
  • Cherokee Nation
  • Cherokee Nation Health Services

Funding Sponsors

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Communities Involved

  • Tribal communities

Study Type

  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Community based participatory research
  • Mixed methods

Principal Investigator(s)

Team Member(s)

Heath Research Initiatives

  • American Indian and Alaska Native Health

Focus Areas

  • Behavioral health
  • Health disparities