Drug and alcohol addiction is prevalent in Indian country, and sometimes it seems like fighting it can be an uphill battle.

How Drugs and Alcohol Can Take Over Native Families

Dr. Dean Chavers

Like most people, I hate to admit that I have drugs in my family. I have somewhere between 400 and 800 cousins. I don’t know most of them. I just found my real father’s family 13 years ago, and only know 15 or 20 of these cousins. The total is somewhere around 300 or more, counting first, second, and third cousins.

That’s from my momma’s family, my daddy’s family, and my real father’s family. Most of them, over 98 percent, are drug-free. But the ones who are into drugs are from all three families.

As most of us foolish young people did in California in the 1970s, I smoked weed a couple of times. The last time was at the apartment of a friend of mine, with beer and weed as the condiments. He would light a joint and pass it to his left, then light another one and pass it to his right. After half an hour of this I was too stoned to drive home. My wife had to drive, which she does not like to do at night. But I never touched the weed again. I didn’t like it.

One of my relatives fell over several years ago. If the fellow he was talking to had not caught him, he would have busted his head open on the concrete. He died nine days later when they unplugged the machine that was keeping him alive. I think he was high on something. The doctor said it was a brain aneurism.

His drug was alcohol. Years before he got into trouble at a bar, hit or shot at his girlfriend, got in his truck to leave, and the cops thought he pointed a pistol at them, and they shot him in the face. After surgery, he went on trial and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He refused parole and pulled the whole eight. He died less than a year after he got out. He was too young to die; he was only 58.

Another relative was on stuff, pretty much anything available. Uppers, downers, pills, opioids, and other things were all good to him. He died early too, of an aneurism to his heart. He was dead within 15 minutes, with his whole family across the table from him when he fell over. But the doctors kept him going for five hours, pumping blood into him, which would just go into his stomach instead of to his heart. It broke my heart when he died.

I learned that meth addiction is strong, and that gambling is another addition to most meth addicts. So meth addiction means you are going to be broke all the time, and you won’t have any money for food for your kids. The number of meth deaths in New Mexico has tripled in the past five years.

Once upon a time my best friend and I were on our way to work with a tribe for a week. He says, “Let’s make a little detour and see my friend.” So we did, and the friend invited us to stay and have dinner. But when an airplane flew over, he ran back into the house. It turned out that he had marijuana plants growing in another crop in the field and the airplane was looking for it. They didn’t see anything, and flew away. He had been doing this for 10 years or longer, and may still be doing it. As far as I know he has never been caught.

Another relative died a few years ago, partly from weed and partly from other stuff. She was also too young to die, but had been on chemicals of one sort or another since she was a teenager. We could not tell her anything. Car crashes, smoking with her nephew, partying all night long, and staying high most of the time was her life. She started as a teenager and continued until she died too young.

Another relative started doing drugs as a teenager, worked for a while as a bouncer at a strip club, did not finish high school, and spent over 20 years doing day labor in earth moving equipment. He died at the age of 53. He had a heart attack, went into the hospital that day, and died three days later. His family had no money to care for his burial expenses, so another relative and I had to pay for it. This made his family think we have some money, and we do not. They thought we were going to buy their groceries and pay their rent, and thought we were uncaring brutes when we could not. They did not believe us when we said we had no money, that the expenses we had paid were all the money we had.

My son-in-law says drugs are everywhere, and he is right. There apparently is no stopping them. I don’t know how one could do it. People tell me they know the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the people who are selling drugs to their kids, but feel there is nothing they can do about it.

One of my good friends, an authentic genius, feeds drug users on a daily basis in my hometown. She retired ten years ago and started her food program immediately afterward. The people she feeds have no homes, no families, and are hooked on drugs. She works at this several hours a day, seven days a week. There are several similar programs where in live, in Albuquerque.

I learned a few years ago who started bringing drugs into my home county. He was a respectable businessman, but I lost all respect for him. He apparently made hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, bringing in drugs and selling them to dealers. At first I did not believe it was he, but after hearing it from several people, I had to believe it. And I grew up with him. Because of him two of my nephews died young of overdoses.

One of the drug dealers where I grew up also had a respectable business. But after he got busted for selling drugs, he got sentenced to a few years in prison and had to sell the business. The person who bought it is making real money with it.

Another relative got into selling drugs as a teenager. He allegedly made enough money before he was 35 that he would never have to work again. That’s rumor, but I believe it. His momma told that to one of my best friends. At least one of the people he dealt with got shot and killed.

Another relative moved west and bought a grocery store 50 years ago. Twenty years ago, one of my friends went with his niece to visit him. They were only there for about half an hour when my friend said, “We have to get out of here.” They had just started down the road when the niece said, “Why did we have to leave all of a sudden?”

She said, “Didn’t you see what was going on? Those people coming in and going to the back room were obviously there buying drugs.” The niece got irate. “My uncle would not sell drugs,” she said. The two of them have not spoken since. But I don’t doubt that drugs were being sold.

Drugs are a tragedy that no one should have to go through. Unfortunately, most of us have to go through it, and will continue to have to.

Dr. Dean Chavers is director of Catching the Dream, a national scholarship program for Native American college students. His next books are on the American Indian dropout, termination of Indian treaties, and Indian massacres. Contact him at [email protected].

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