Campaign targets meth use in Indian CountryFederal officials on Wednesday launched an advertising campaign aimed at curbing methamphetamine use in American Indian communities throughout New Mexico and in more than a dozen other states.
By: By Susan Montoya Bryan , The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Federal officials on Wednesday launched an advertising campaign aimed at curbing methamphetamine use in American Indian communities throughout New Mexico and in more than a dozen other states.
The three-month campaign expands on a series of radio ads and billboards that were tested in recent years in a handful of states. The new effort includes nearly $2 million worth of television and radio air time as well as print and billboard space.
“There are a lot of cool things about being native. Meth isn’t one of them,” says a voice at the end of one of the new commercials. Indian youth painting a mural, playing basketball and practicing kicks in karate class are used during the 30-second spot to send the message that meth destroys creativity and health.
Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and other officials gathered in Albuquerque to unveil the campaign.
“We know that people fall through the cracks on the reservation and fall through the cracks in other places on tribal land. We have to work hard to change that,” he said after citing what he called “troubling” data about meth use rates in tribal communities.
Meth use by Native Americans remains among the highest of any ethnicity. For instance, Native Americans are almost twice as likely to have used meth than whites and Hispanics and about five times more likely than African Americans, according to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
A national youth risk behavior study done in 2005 showed 14 percent of Native American high school students had used meth one or more times during their life.
Alvin Warren, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Indian Affairs, said the problem is particularly troubling on the nation’s largest Indian reservation, the Navajo Nation, which straddles parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
He shared several statistics: the Navajo-area Indian Health Service reported that 2,167 individuals were treated for meth use in 2000 and 4,077 were treated in eight months in 2004. In 2007, the FBI reported that about 40 percent of all violent crimes committed on the Navajo Nation were directly related to meth use and trafficking.
Kerlikowske said meth use is high in Indian Country because many tribal communities do not have enough police offices. Vast, sparsely populated Indian lands also can benefit meth manufacturers who are looking to cook the dangerous drug while staying under the radar of law enforcement, he said.
Warren said the reason for the high prevalence of meth in Indian communities is complex.
“You have to look at what’s at the root cause,” he said. “Historical trauma is part of it, poverty is part of it, lack of opportunity, loss of language and culture, challenging family circumstances. ... I don’t think we appreciate how hopeless sometimes things could be for a particular youth.”
Larry Echo Hawk, assistant Interior secretary for Indian Affairs, said enforcing existing laws are a must but “we’re not going to arrest ourselves out of a problem like this.”
“That is why I’m so pleased to see the ad campaign is all about education and prevention,” he said. “What we’ve got to do is challenge our young people to make good decisions, do what’s right, to stay away from drugs and their ill effects.”
The National Congress of American Indians, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and federal officials first began tackling meth in Indian Country with radio and print ads in 2008. At the time, that was the first national meth prevention initiative developed specifically for tribal communities.
Officials said the new effort expands on that work while continuing to encourage youth to draw strength from their traditions and heritage to avoid the trap of meth. The ads also aim to encourage Indian adults to protect their children.
The ads will run through August in New Mexico, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wyoming, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin and Utah.