Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested orally. Long-term meth use may have severe mental health consequences, including anxiety, confusion, insomnia, memory loss and mood disturbances such as depression.

Combating Meth Use, Suicide Among AIAN Youth

Tanya H. Lee

The Indian Health Service has almost doubled the number of grants for meth and suicide prevention among youth in American Indian communities with the announcement of 42 new awards to support President Obama’s Generation Indigenous Initiative.

The 2016 Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI) funding, worth more than $7 million, will go to tribes, tribal organizations, urban Indian organizations and IHS programs, adding to the $13.2 million in MSPI grants awarded last year.

MSPI has funded 156 programs, with awards totaling more than $21 million; 88 of those projects support President Obama’s Gen I initiative launched at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference to improve the lives of Native youth by removing barriers to their success.

Methamphetamine is a highly-addictive central nervous system stimulant that has become widely available in Indian country. “Native Americans now experience the highest meth usage rates of any ethnic group in the nation,” according to the U.S. Justice Department publication Methamphetamine in Indian Country: An American Problem Uniquely Affecting Indian Country.

Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested orally. Long-term meth use may have severe mental health consequences, including anxiety, confusion, insomnia, memory loss and mood disturbances such as depression. Symptoms of psychosis, such as paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions may also occur. Structural and functional changes in the brain have been identified in meth users, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Physical effects may include extreme weight loss, severe dental problems and skin sores. Most meth used in the U.S. is manufactured in illegal, unregulated laboratories.

Drug and alcohol abusers are at particularly high risk for suicide. A 2008 White Paper from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states, “A growing body of studies has demonstrated that alcohol and drug abuse are second only to depression and other mood disorders as the most frequent risk factors for suicide.”

The connection between suicide and drug abuse is especially strong for injected meth. A 2011 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence states, “M[eth] A[mphetamine] injection was associated with an 80 percent increase in the risk of attempting suicide,” compared with people who injected other drugs.

The warning signs of methamphetamine use include changes in relationships with family or friends; loss of inhibitions; mood changes or emotional instability; periods of sleeplessness or agitation; hostile, angry, uncooperative, deceitful, or secretive behavior; changes in speech, including the inability to speak intelligibly; change in appearance and poor hygiene; loss of interest in favorite activities or hobbies; missing work or school; or complaints or comments from coworkers or teachers, according to IHS.

President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2017 budget for IHS includes funding to further expand the MSPI program, which would be renamed Substance Abuse and Suicide Prevention. Of the $49 million proposed for expanding (as distinguished from maintaining) health care services for AIAN people, $15 million would go to Gen I substance abuse and suicide prevention projects.

The 42 entities awarded grants in this funding round are Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Fairbanks Native Association, Kodiak Area Native Association, Maniilaq Association, SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Council, Pueblo of Acoma, Pueblo of Isleta, Santo Domingo Tribe, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Crow Tribe of Indians, Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes, Rocky Boy Health Board, Pinoleville Pomo Nation, Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health, Inc., Oglala Sioux Tribe, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, Santee Sioux Nation, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Spirit Lake Tribe, Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, Navajo Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Delaware Tribe of Indians, Osage Nation, Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Hualapai Indian Tribe, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Tulalip Tribes of Washington, Western Oregon Service Unit - Chemawa Indian Health Center, Tohono O'odham Nation, Bakersfield American Indian Health Project, Urban Indian Health Board of Minneapolis, Urban Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition and Urban Nevada Urban Indians.

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