If drug and alcohol abuse increased 3,695 percent among our entire population, it would make headlines.
We would see the story on every channel, TV and radio, and we would read about the outrageous drug problem on the front of every newspaper. If addiction increased over 3,000 percent, something would be done, so why isn’t the same true for every group within our society?
Addiction increase among American Indians
Prescription painkiller and heroin addiction gone up that much, 3,695 percent, among American Indians. The numbers come from studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that tracked opiate addiction rates from 1998 to 2011.
Richard Wright, the chairman of the Minnesota American Indian Advisory (MAIA), appreciates the CDC’s published results. Wright has over thirty years of experience working with addicts in various aspects of recovery. He knows that for the specific American Indian population, certain barriers stand in the way of treatment that other cultural groups may not go up against. The MAIA chairman sites that, as a group, American Indians experience insufficient funding and very few culturally-sensitive rehab programs that can provide help that addresses the population’s real problems.
On June 7, Richard Wright organized a lunch discussion that gathered over 30 substance abuse counselors to determine how to “optimize care for opiate-addicted clients” and strategies for helping the caregivers who are treating these particular addicts.
Growing rates among females
The group addressed the issue of the quickly growing rates of opiate addiction among female American Indians. Wright believes that, “Females tend to be more emotionally out there than boys, and to explore their environment in an emotional way. A lot can go wrong to impact how they feel about themselves.” A lot of these girls are self-medicating painful feelings of self-loathing, parental neglect, or sexual violence, and others lack self-worth and are experimenting with friends to the point of personal danger.
Without a counselor or someone to talk to, these young girls are seeking escape from pain and trauma. The availability of prescription drugs adds to the problem. If your parents are taking Vicodin, Percocet, or OxyContin regularly, all you have to do is go into their medicine cabinet and take some. When pills are no longer around that way, you seek pills from your friends or from drug dealers. Worst case scenario, you use heroin until you can get ahold of more prescription pills. One opiate can substitute for any other opiate, and heroin is cheaper, offers a more intense high, and can be found in every city and town across America.
Strategy for treatment
Richard Wright, the Minnesota American Indian Advisory, the CDC, and every substance abuse treatment center and counselor in the country are working on strategies that increase the education, prevention, and intervention measures accessible to American Indians, young people, and addicts everywhere. Law enforcement is also undergoing changes that create ways to keep more people from using and abusing drugs and alcohol.
The shocking increase in opiate addiction among Native Americans is cause for concern, and it is not just that population’s problem. We can all work together to treat those who need help the most.
Kate Green pursues her passion of helping people with drug and alcohol addiction at Balboa Horizons Treatment Services. Read more about opiate deaths in women on her blog.
Photo Credit: Robin Iversen Rönnlund