Oklahoma Tribes Working To Prevent Meth Use

Saturday, November 18th 2006, 6:46 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ In the rural areas of the Osage Nation reservation, tribal officials say a silent epidemic is spreading, causing domestic abuse, child abuse, child neglect and an overall decline in the quality of life for some Osages.

Methamphetamine use is on the rise, and tribal leaders passed an anti-meth bill this week that would set minimum penalties for the use, possession and distribution of meth.

The bill, which was passed Wednesday in the Osage Nation Congress, is a starting point in the Osage Nation's battle against the ``methamphetamine epidemic,'' Osage Congresswoman Debbie Littleton said.

Littleton worked diligently to get the legislation passed because she said she had seen firsthand the effects of the drug on family members.

``It's something I've been concerned with a long time,'' Littleton said. ``It didn't seem like there was anything being done about it.''

About 69.2 percent of the open Indian child welfare cases in the tribe are related to methamphetamine, said Lee Collins, director of social services for Osage Nation.

The tribe, which occupies Osage County in northeastern Oklahoma, has about 3,200 members living on its reservation.

Collins said the 2004 Oklahoma law that restricted access to products containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth ingredient, helped to bring down usage numbers on the reservation, but the trend has reversed as meth trafficking in the area has increased.

``If we looked at the past three months we'd see that number go up significantly,'' Collins said. ``I've worked with families (involved with meth), and in the past 11 years I've seen one mother get off meth and stay off.''

Even those who seek treatment for their addiction don't last and they wind up back in the system, she said.

Other problems that go hand-in-hand with methamphetamine use are child neglect and abuse.

``People who have used meth don't supervise their children. They party, sleep, and their children are subject to things such as sexual abuse by strangers the parents have let stay at their homes,'' Collins said.

If all of Oklahoma's tribes would work together in applying for grants, they might be more successful in getting the funds needed to create two-year treatment programs, Collins said.

Right now the Osage Nation only has a 28-day treatment program that Collins said is insufficient for any meth addict. She said a true addict would need at least a two-year program to stay clean.

``It's not just tribes _ it's all of society,'' Collins said. ``We've got to do a better job of protecting our children so the parents can get the treatment they need.''

Other tribes like the Cherokee Nation and the Choctaw Nation are working to get meth prevention grants to aid in their fight to keep the drug out.

The Cherokee Nation has received a $350,000 methamphetamine prevention grant that will be used to educate the community _ particularly the 16 to 20-year-old population _ and raise awareness about the drug.

B.J. Boyd, deputy director of Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health, said the tribe wants to help communities develop their own drug prevention plans and programs.

Boyd said the tribe doesn't have exact numbers on meth use within the Cherokee jurisdiction, but the tribe has the sense that it's there just by talking to tribal law enforcement.

``What we have in our area, it's not just an Indian problem,'' Boyd said. ``We're very integrated with other people who aren't Indian, and it's a problem for the whole community. We don't see that one group is source of the problem.''

The Choctaw Nation is seeking funding for a meth prevention grant that will only be given to five tribes across the United States.

Gary Nunley, director of behavioral health for the Choctaw Nation, said the grant would help with prevention, treatment and recovery for meth users.

The tribe has a 30-day treatment facility, and 45 percent of those who enter the program have said meth is their drug of choice, Nunley said.

The Chi Hullo Li, or We Care for You, center is a six-month facility for mothers who are seeking treatment but don't want to be separated from their children. Methamphetamine is the leading drug at the facility.

``Meth is highly addictive. It takes a toll on the whole body and results in a loss of job, family and finances,'' Nunley said. ``It's a real serious problem.''

Nunley said Indian tribes should work together on the issue to find a solution.

``We should be partnering more formally with other tribes across the country to see if we can't identify a solution and the practices that work,'' Nunley said.