Program Aims to Prevent Substance Misuse Among Native American Youth

BOSTON — A new program from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) will provide substance-misuse prevention support services for Native American youth in the Commonwealth. The $1.2 million federally funded program was created in response to recommendations from the Governor’s Opioid Working Group, which identified more than 65 actionable steps to address the opioid crisis.

Native Americans have among the highest rates of increase in opioid-overdose deaths in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Massachusetts, there were 24 opioid-related overdose deaths among American Indian/Alaska Natives between 2014 and 2016.

“Every community in Massachusetts has been affected by the opioid epidemic,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “Here in Massachusetts, we are committed to supporting tribal communities and equipping them with the resources and assistance necessary to prevent substance misuse.”

Led by the Institute for New England Native American Studies ay UMass Boston, the program will provide life-skills training to Native youth in middle school to enhance self-esteem, develop problem-solving techniques, reduce stress and anxiety, and build effective defenses against pressure to use tobacco, alcohol, opioids, and other drugs. The program will also offer tribes assistance with applying for and managing grants to enhance the resources that are available to tribal communities.

Over the last six years, DPH has worked with a group of Native Americans from different tribes and developed a team to support family members’ roles to prevent opioid and other substance misuse and encourage Native middle-schoolers to make healthy choices. The team has created Native-specific substance-misuse prevention resources based on meetings with elders, youth, and parents to gather input.

“We are pleased that the state has reached out to us in this way,” said team member Larry Spotted Crow Mann. “State health leaders know how proud we are to be Native, and have worked with us on cultural means to keep our youth healthy.” 

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