The drug problem in California has had a significant impact on the Native American youth, a demographic proven to be particularly vulnerable to substance abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

That vulnerability is tied in part to limited socioeconomic opportunity. A 2014 study focusing on American Indian youth reveals alarming substance use patterns, including patterns of drug use beginning much earlier than is typical for other Americans.

A study compared survey data from American Indian students at thirty-three schools on or near reservations in eleven U.S. states with nationwide data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The results were striking, particularly in the much higher prevalence of drug and alcohol use in 8th and 10th graders compared to national averages. American Indian students’ annual heroin and OxyContin use was about two to three times higher than the national averages.

Also noteworthy was the finding that American Indian youth are initiating alcohol and drug use earlier than their non-native counterparts.

High substance use in American Indian communities contributes to a range of social problems including violence, delinquency, and mortality from suicide or alcohol or other substance abuse. Addressing the issue requires both prevention and treatment.

Addiction Issues in Northern California

The drug problem in Northern California, particularly the high level of opiate addiction, has been sounding alarm bells for some time. Finally, the need for a treatment facility that allows young people to get the help they need, while remaining close to the support of their family and community, is forthcoming.

Construction has been completed on what will be the first federally operated residential facility in California to treat Native American youth with drug and alcohol problems. It is set to open in December. Teens who have to go to other states for substance abuse treatment will soon have a far closer-to-home option near Sage.

As reported by The Press Enterprise, “For us in Southern California, it’s a great benefit,” said Jess Montoya, chief executive officer of Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health, a nonprofit organization that offers medical and other services to Native Americans. The group has representatives from nine tribes.

The 35,500-square-foot Desert Sage Youth Wellness Center will have thirty-two beds for Native American boys and girls seeking help with substance abuse and addiction. Five family suites will allow relatives to stay at the center during the months teens live there. Currently, these youth must travel to facilities in Nevada, Utah, Oregon and other states, which is clearly not ideal in light of the importance of the support of friends and family for a successful rehabilitation.

Indian Health Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bought the 20 acres for the facility; between property and construction costs, $17 million has been invested into the creation of the facility. It will employ 70 people, including teachers, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, nurses, kitchen staff and therapists. The annual budget will be about $7 million.

The center will not only help Native American youth “address substance problems but also offer a program that will provide culturally appropriate rehabilitation and education,” Mary Smith, the agency’s principal deputy director, said in a news release.

The drug problem in Northern CA is also recognized as an alarm call for a facility: Congress approved money in 2015 to build two Native American youth treatment centers in California, and the one in Sage is the first. A second facility will open to address the drug problem in Northern California: it will be located in Davis and is expected to open in late 2018. There are now ten facilities across the country.

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