I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Posts Tagged methamphetamine
U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales is promising a comprehensive push to reduce crime in Indian Country.
New Mexico will have three new prosecutors tasked with fighting crime on Indian reservations, Gonzales pledged Tuesday — one more than the two announced…
Federal, state and tribal officials met Wednesday morning to launch a three-month long White House-sponsored television ad campaign aimed at methamphetamine abuse among Native Americans. The campaign will last through July and cost the federal government approximately $750,000.
“It’s not a hugely expensive campaign,” U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske acknowledged. But the ads are tailored to Native American audiences, emphasizing cultural pride and strength, he said.
State and tribal officials urged that more federal resources be devoted to confronting Indian Country’s meth epidemic, while others said the government is ignoring the underlying problems driving the crisis.
“A decade ago, it seemed that meth use was very rare in Indian Country,” U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk told an audience of 50 Wednesday at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. “That’s certainly not the case anymore. It’s reaching what can be described as epidemic proportions now.”
Methamphetamine abuse rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives are the highest for any ethnicity in the nation, nearly twice that of any other ethnic group in the U.S. based on emergency room data and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, White House Drug Control Policy Director (U.S. “Drug Czar”) Gil Kerlikowske said.
The Navajo Nation, where 15 percent of high school students reported meth use in 2003, is particularly hard-hit, New Mexico Secretary of Indian Affairs Alvin Warren noted.
“The FBI estimates that 40 percent of violent crimes on the Navajo reservation are meth-related,” Warren said. “To succeed, this campaign must be a part of a comprehensive, collaborative effort with the federal government. It has to include sufficient resources for treatment, prevention and law enforcement.”
The true scope of the meth problem in Indian Country is unclear, Kerlikowske acknowledged — partly because of the number of urban Indians involved.
“It’s very difficult to get your head around just how many people (are involved),” Kerlikowske said. “A lot of Native people don’t live on tribal lands.”
Part of the problem for those who do live on Indian reservations, is the allure of vast, under-policed and remote spaces to meth manufacturers and traffickers, officials said.
Reservation land “is very remote,” Isleta Pueblo Governor Robert Benevides, a retired BIA police officer, told The Independent. “Drug traffickers know that.”
As Mexico has clamped down on the importation of meth precursor chemicals and the U.S. has tightened control of the U.S./Mexico border, myriad small-scale “shake and bake” meth labs are popping up in Indian Country, Drug Czar assistant director Mark Krawczyk said.
“Mexico as a key source of meth has sort of evaporated,” Krawczyk said. “Now we get small-scale shake and bake labs using pseudoephedrine bought over the counter. The effects are magnified because there are all these tiny meth labs on the sides of roads.”
Over the past two years, federal agencies have assigned 30 new drug enforcement officers to help police the land of more than 500 U.S. tribes, Echo Hawk said.
“Six or seven” more will be added nationwide this year, he told The Independent.
But that’s not enough to confront the problem, others said.
“We need more law enforcement in the field,” Benevides said. “The money is not adequate.”
Isleta is surrounded by centers of meth abuse, and federal support for law enforcement on the Pueblo is inadequate, Benevides told The Independent. The tribe has enough money from its casino to fund two police officers, he said.
There needs to be increased collaboration between tribal, state and federal law enforcement, emphasized Joe Garcia, Southwest Area Vice President for the National Congress of American Indians.
Underlying problems unaddressed?
Some tribal members, while supportive of the ad campaign, told The Independent the underlying problems driving meth and heroin drug abuse on Indian reservations are not being addressed by government anti-drug efforts.
“Mental health, that is where it comes from — depression,” said Adrienne Mauskemo, a member of the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa.
Mauskemo emphasized that she was speaking as a mother, not a representative of her tribe.
“Maybe children are neglected and they are trying to find some ways to get away from their pain,” Mauskemo said. “They have suicidal ideas. When they’re trying to treat the drug problem, first they need to deal with the mental health.”
The television ads emphasized key words, Mauskemo noticed: support, nurturing, strength.
”But what does it mean to be strong,” she asked. “Do the youth know? To me, it’s inner strength, to speak to yourself. I will not do this. I was able to speak to myself that way. It kept me out of trouble. That is how I see things.”
In an effort to provide safe recreation venues for children and teens, the Isleta Pueblo has built soccer, baseball and T-ball fields, a recreation center and swimming pool, Benevides said.
”If you don’t give our kids a place to go, they will get into trouble,” Benevides said.
Acoma Tribal Councilman Derek Valdo also cited underfunding of the U.S. Indian Health Service’s mental health programs as part of the problem.
“It’s bad enough just trying to get medical services for basic needs,” Valdo told The Independent. “They’re emphasizing law enforcement and prevention, but what’s lacking is the other part: how do we fix it afterward?”
Tribes face a major challenge with cleaning up houses that have been used as meth labs, Valdo said.
There exist no national standards for what residual level of meth lab chemicals is safe, as there are for radiation exposure or radon, Valdo pointed out.
Expansion to include public health
The ad campaign represents a shift for the federal government, toward a public health model of confronting the meth problem, officials suggested.
Acknowledging widespread mistrust for the federal government in Indian Country, Kerlikowske emphasized the state and local government backgrounds of the federal officials at the meeting, and said that talking of a “war on drugs” was not “the best way to talk about what is a public health problem.”
“We’re not going to arrest ourselves out of something like this,” Echo Hawk said. “We’ve got to challenge our young people to make good decisions.”
Older adults abusing meth too
The ads, which emphasize the themes “pride” and “we don’t need meth,” were produced by Alternative Marketing Solutions, a Native American-owned advertising agency, according to a press release distributed at the meeting.
The ads were test marketed in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, New Mexico, Arizona and Washington, Kerlikowske said.
“In the past, ads have been generic. I don’t think an anti-drug ad made in Brooklyn will resonate (in Indian Country),” Kerlikowske said. “These ads are directed both at young people but also adults, elders, parents—about how to…provide help.”
But many Native Americans struggling with meth addiction are themselves middle-aged and older adults, others said.
“It’s not just youth,” Garcia said, whose hair is graying. “A lot of people as old as I am, and older, are using meth.”
“We are seeing it in the older group, the 40 to 50 age group,” Mauskemo told The Independent after the meeting. “I’m speaking as a mother, not for the tribe. I see huffing (of solvents or gasoline) in 10 and 11 year-olds. That’s how you see the pattern start.”
The three-month campaign has a $1.5 million “media value,” Kerlikowske said, though only about $750,000 of government money was actually invested in the ads and paid advertising slots, Krawczyk later told The Independent.
“These are paid ads,” Krawczyk said. “After the campaign ends, we’re making them available as public service announcements to tribal and local governments.”
New Mexico Secretary of New Mexico Indian Affairs Alvin Warren will hold a press conference April 28 at the All Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque to launch the first national anti-methamphetamine advertising campaign aimed at Indian Country. More …
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