Drug Abuse & Native American Indian Youth

The native American Indian population of the US is only small in comparison with other ethnic groups.  Regardless of its size, native American Indians struggle disproportionately with a range of health and social problems – including drug and substance abuse.   Evidence of the effects of this abuse is particularly prevalent among native American Indian youth.

A cursory glance at the statistics reveals some quite startling facts:-

  • American Indian adolescents (aged 12-17) show significantly higher rates in the use of cigarettes (16.8% compared to 10.2%), marijuana (13.8%/6.9%) and non-medical uses of prescription drugs (6.1%/3.3%) compared with the national average.
  • Native American youth are twice as likely to abuse alcohol in comparison to any other ethnic group.
  • Native American youth begin using alcohol and drugs at least twelve months earlier than their non-native American counterparts and as a result, frequently drop out of school.

Concern over these figures, combined with high rates of violence, led to The Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010 which also repurposed the Indian Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (IASA) aiming to address the reasons for these high rates of substance abuse.

The fundamental issues which led to such unacceptably high levels of drug abuse are virtually identical to the reasons for soaring rates of suicide among native American Indian youth:-

  • High unemployment levels and excessive poverty.
  • Generational trauma and psychological problems, resulting from cultural disruption.
  • High rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

Compounding these problems are the cultural and generational influences of native American Indian communities and the palpable lack of hope among young American Indians.

It doesn’t end there.

The problems faced by the native American population are exacerbated not only by a lack of adequate healthcare but an absence of suitable rehabilitation programs. Both of these issues are in turn made worse by insufficient funding; the Office of Civil Rights Evaluation itself has stated that Indian Health Services (IHS) are grossly underfunded.

The National Institute for Drug Abuse has reported that reduced use of drugs leads to lower levels of unemployment and criminal activity which are both prevalent among native American Indian youth.
Surely the answer to this crisis is therefore to increase funding to the schemes available?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) together with the Indian Alcohol and Substance Abuse (IASA) and Native Youth Educational Services offers resources for tribes for educational programs and resources in an effort to combat this pernicious problem.  Adopting a ‘Culture is Prevention’ theme, it also attempts to address the realities of heavy drinking and encourage native American Indian cultures and traditions to prevent drug abuse. Gaining the support of family and the wider community is crucial to its success.

This may not be as easy as it sounds.  In some areas, there is generational acceptance of drug use and a lack of understanding over the need for treatment centers. Ironically, these factors make the need for rehabilitation all the more urgent.  Some believe that rehabilitation should also acknowledge tribal culture by combining traditional methods with spiritual and holistic healing for greater effect.

One thing is certain. As levels of drug abuse continue to rise unabated, the time to act is now.