Meth On The 'Rez' - Part 2
From the Gila River community south of Phoenix to the Navajo nation in northern Arizona, the drug known as “glass” has become public enemy number 1 on many reservations fueled by severe poverty, alcoholism, and the sheer boredom that afflicts most of the nation’s 571 federally recognized tribes.
“Status quo is a life six years shorter than any other American group,” said Kathy Kitcheyan, San Carlos Chairwoman who spoke before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during a February hearing.
“Indians are 318 percent more likely to die from diabetes, and 670 percent more likely to die from alcoholism. It’s 63 babies born in my tribe last year addicted to methamphetamine and that is just one tribe. Nationally, Indian country is under attack from crystal meth.”
“It’s probably almost reached epidemic proportions,” agrees Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians and governor of New Mexico’s Ohkay Owingeh, “It’s crisis mode. Not just our crisis. It’s a crisis in the nation.”
On the Navajo Reservation this past week, an 81 year-old medicine woman was arrested on suspicion of dealing meth with her daughter and granddaughter. Ninety-four percent of the tribal members who responded to a recent poll described the drug as a severe problem.
At the Gila River Indian Community, tradition counselors oversee “talking circles” where addicts pass an eagle feather and sing native songs as part of spiritual therapy. The tribes also conduct anti-drug powwows and are building a $13 million residential center for modern treatment.
In New Mexico, the Ohkay Owingeh trive is reviving the ancient practice of banishment to remove meth dealers.
In North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokees has a hotline to report dealers and to announce regular anti-drug rallies.
At Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, 25 tribal members were busted last May in connection with a drug ring.
Young Shoshones and Arapahos were viewed as a fresh market by drug cartels, said Jeffrey Sweetin, regional special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We had an organization headed by Mexican drug traffickers who specifically targeted the Wind River Reservation. Young kids get free drugs, and after a very few times they’ll grow into a user population. There’s an entire generation of Native Americans who are vanishing.”
As a result, even tribal leaders who might otherwise distrust outsiders are seeking help. In Arizona, DEA agents work with reservation police. Indian health care officials clamor for funding to pay for meth babies and stabbing victims. Social service directors plead for treatment programs.
On the San Carlos Reservation drug babies are now common, said Social Services Director Terry Ross. The most recent infant was born without feet to a 14 year old. “We just don’t have the resources“, he added as he helplessly shrugged his shoulders.
Native American officials nationwide report a meth-induced surge of violence, juvenile sex and drug babies. Federal authorities say foreign narcotics cartels are now targeting tribal lands as distribution beachheads.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Committee chairman, has scheduled a hearing on the meth epidemic for this coming week before the Indian Affairs Committee.
This column was edited for content and length from an article in the March 31st edition of The Arizona Republic bylined Dennis Wagner.
On A Personal Note - The meth-addicted baby born on the San Carlos Reservation without feet brings back the horror stories of the thalidomide epidemic of the early 1960s. At the time, drug experts were unaware of the birth defects caused by the popular sleeping pill which was also used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women.
Mothers who had taken thalidomide during the first trimester had children with a wide range of deformities including babies with no arms, flippers coming out of the baby’s shoulders, limbless trunks with toes extending from their hips, and babies with just a head and torso.
I am sincerely praying to God the Creator the San Carlos baby is a fluke and an exception to the rule among meth-addicted babies who are currently being born and going to be conceived during this current era of rampant drug abuse.
But if the drug does cause serious birth defects in pregnant addicts, its use sends up another “red flag” that the current epidemic has to be brought under control as quickly as possible. This has become a national emergency equal to the terrorism threat - b.
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