Evidence-Based Practices & Substance Abuse Treatment for Native Americans


Despite decades of research as well as concerted efforts to improve prevention and treatment, available information suggests that the prevalence of problematic alcohol and drug (i.e., substance) use has not appreciably changed in most American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities. Research and health surveillance activities further document the substantial impacts of substance abuse on the health of AI/AN people at rates that continue to far exceed those of non-AI/ANs.

Fortunately, a number of Evidence-Based Treatments (EBTs) have now been developed that hold substantial promise for improving treatment for AI/ANs with substance use problems, as they do for non-AI/ANs. Anecdotal reports suggest, however, that the use of EBTs in programs that serve AI/ANs is limited. Furthermore, the unique funding mechanisms for programs serving AI/ANs, as well as the sovereign status of AI/AN tribes, mean that we cannot assume that the factors influencing the implementation of EBTs in programs more generally, such as mandates for the use of EBTs in federally-sponsored programs, impact programs serving this special population in the manner in which they were intended. Organizational factors may also operate differently given the severe fiscal and human resource limitations under which these programs operate. In addition, concerns about the cultural appropriateness of some EBTs may discourage their use.


Specific aims

  • to describe the use of specific evidence-based treatments in substance abuse treatment programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities;
  • to describe the factors associated with the implementation of evidence-based treatments in these programs; and
  • to identify methods for more effective dissemination of evidence-based treatments to substance abuse treatment programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

We received supplementary funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to explore workforce issues in substance abuse treatment programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities by expanding the scope of the third stage of our project (telephone/online survey). The specific aims for this supplement are as follows:

  • to document and describe the characteristics (gender, education level, licensure, recovery status, and other demographics) and experiences (training, supervision, continuing education, etc.) of counselors working in addiction treatment programs serving AI/ANs; and
  • to examine the workforce characteristics and experiences associated with clinical decision-making in terms of knowledge, attitudes about, and use of evidence-based treatments.


Project team

  • Traci Rieckmann, subcontract Principal Investigator (Oregon Health & Sciences University)
  • Candace Fleming, Co-Investigator
  • Alexandra Fickenscher, Project Coordinator
  • Laurie Moore, Project Coordinator
  • Rupinder Legha, Co-Investigator
  • Calvin Croy, Statistician


Advisory Board

  • Gregory A. Aarons, University of California - San Diego
  • Annie Belcourt-Ditloff, University of Montana
  • Gordon Belcourt, Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council
  • Sarah “Sam” Conti, Psychotherapist in private practice
  • Dennis Dahlke, Southern Ute Community Action Programs
  • Raymond Daw, Alaska Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation
  • Daniel Dickerson, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Darren Dry, Cherokee Nation Health Services
  • John Gastorf, Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health
  • Mose Herne, Indian Health Service
  • Craig Love, Westat
  • Kathy Masis, MT-WY Tribal Leaders Council
  • Caitlin Rasplica, University of Oregon
  • Paul Spicer, University of Oklahoma


Study design

Stage 1: Initial Advisory Board meeting

As part of the first stage of this project, we convened an Advisory Board  consisting of experts from AI/AN communities, substance abuse treatment programs serving these communities, and researchers to discuss these controversies, how these controversies might threaten this project, and methods to reduce the risks of these threats. 

Stage 2: Focused program case studies

We visited a total of 18 substance abuse treatment programs (12 outpatient, 6 residential) clustered in 7 tribes/communities/regional consortiums.  We had 22 clinical administrators and 55 front-line clinicians (an average of 1.2 clinical administrators and 3 front-line clinicians per program).  We included 7 IHS regions and 7 states. 

After a program expressed an interest in participating in the project, the principal investigator worked with the program to complete the local review and approval process, after which a visit was scheduled. At each participating program we conducted one or more key informant interviews with program staff in clinical administrative positions as well as a focus group with program staff in front-line clinical positions. Key informant interviews were scheduled for 60 minutes and focus groups were scheduled for 90 minutes (with additional time set aside to complete the consent process). Visits to individual programs were generally completed in a single day. Project directors were given the option of distributing the interview/focus group guides prior to the research team’s visit. All interviews and focus groups were conducted by the principal investigator. Interviews and focus groups were recorded and detailed notes were also taken as a back-up.

The Advisory Board developed interview and focus group guides designed to generate open-ended conversations about the community served by the program, services provided and how they were developed, the challenges to providing these services as well as the participants’ awareness of and experience with a selected set of EBTs. In addition, clinical administrators were asked about the size, disciplinary and educational backgrounds, certification and licensure, and ethnicity of their staff as well as the program’s quality assurance and program evaluation activities. Front-line clinicians were asked about ongoing training experiences and their preferences in learning about new treatments they might offer. 

The interview and focus group guides included a series of open-ended “stem” questions that were used to steer the conversation through the key topics of interest to the research team. These guides also included a series of “probes” for most stem questions that allowed the interview to explore specific issues if these were not spontaneously identified by the interview/group participants (e.g., whether the program felt pressure to provide specific treatments because of accreditation or reimbursement requirements).

Stage 3: Telephone/online survey

In the final stage of the project, we asked a representative sample of the Directors of 445 behavioral health programs that serve reservation, rural, and urban AI/AN communities to complete a 45-minute online survey about their program and experience with EBTs.  We divided the sampling frame into 5 distinct groups: the 20 largest federally-recognized tribes (by population on reservation or service area), Urban Indian Health Clinics, Alaska Native Health Corporations, other Tribes (federally-recognized Tribes minus the 20 largest and the Alaska Native villages), and other regional programs (including IHS, Tribal Consortia, independent non-profit and for-profit).  One-hundred-ninety-two Program Directors completed the telephone/online survey.



Novins DK, Aarons GA, Conti SG, Dahlke D, Daw R, Fickenscher A, Fleming C, Love C, Masis K, Spicer P; Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health's Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory Board. Use of the evidence base in substance abuse treatment programs for American Indians and Alaska Natives: Pursuing quality in the crucible of practice and policy. Implement Sci. 2011 Jun 16;6:63. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-6-63

Legha RK, Novins D. The role of culture in substance abuse treatment programs for American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Psychiatr Serv. 2012 Jul;63(7):686-92. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201100399

Novins DK, Moore LA, Beals J, Aarons GA, Rieckmann T, Kaufman CE; Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health’s Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory Board. A framework for conducting a national study of substance abuse treatment programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2012 Sep;38(5):518-22. doi: 10.3109/00952990.2012.694529

Legha R, Raleigh-Cohn A, Fickenscher A, Novins D. Challenges to providing quality substance abuse treatment services for American Indian and Alaska Native communities: Perspectives of staff from 18 treatment centers. BMC Psychiatry. 2014 Jun 17;14:181. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-14-181

Moore LA, Aarons GA, Davis JH, Novins DK. How do providers serving American Indians and Alaska Natives with substance abuse problems define evidence-based treatment? Psychol Serv. 2015 May;12(2):92-100. doi: 10.1037/ser0000022

Novins DK, Croy CD, Moore LA, Rieckmann T. Use of evidence-based treatments in substance abuse treatment programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2016 Apr 1;161:214-21. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.02.007

Rieckmann T, Moore LA, Croy CD, Novins DK, Aarons G. A national study of American Indian and Alaska Native substance abuse treatment: Provider and program characteristics. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2016 Sep;68:46-56. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2016.05.007

Rieckmann T, Moore L, Croy C, Aarons GA, Novins DK. National overview of medication-assisted treatment for American Indians and Alaska Natives with substance use disorders. Psychiatr Serv. 2017 Nov 1;68(11):1136-1143. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201600397

Dickerson D, Moore LA, Rieckmann T, Croy CD, Venner K, Moghaddam J, Gueco R, Novins DK. Correlates of motivational interviewing use among substance use treatment programs serving American Indians/Alaska Natives. J Behav Health Serv Res. 2018 Jan;45(1):31-45. doi: 10.1007/s11414-016-9549-0

Moullin JC, Moore LA, Novins DK, Aarons GA. Attitudes Towards evidence-based practice in substance use treatment programs serving American Indian Native communities. J Behav Health Serv Res. 2019 Jul;46(3):509-520. doi: 10.1007/s11414-018-9643-6

Centers for American Indian & Alaska Native Health

Colorado School of Public Health

CU Anschutz

Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building

13055 East 17th Avenue

Mail Stop F800

Aurora, CO 80045

CMS Login