The most concerning risk factor: many Native youth have no insight in the dangers of drug use. 76.6% of Phoenix Native youth reported they saw little danger in abusing substances like prescription drugs.
(Photo: Charles Williams, Flickr)

The Phoenix-based Urban Indian Coalition presented a workshop on Feb. 24 at the Mesa Public Library about prescription drug abuse among Native youth. This was presented as part of an ongoing educational series for parents and community members on how to work with Native youth.

LorenAshley Buford, who heads the coalition through the Phoenix Indian Center, stated that prescription drug abuse is on the rise nationwide and Native youth are particularly vulnerable.

According to surveys, more than 20% of all Native high school sophomores in Maricopa County reported misusing a prescription drug, which is 6% higher than the average for all youth in the county. The same report also mentioned that 1 in 5 youth were introduced to prescription drug abuse in elementary school.

Buford, who is Seminole, stated that often parents don’t initiate conversations about drug abuse until children become teenagers and less than half of all Native parents have a conversation with their children about substance abuse.

“It’s become a passion of mine to really speak out and [help parents] have those difficult conversations,” Buford said. “It’s important to know that this isn’t just happening to ‘just my cousin’ or ‘just my auntie,’ but it’s happening to a lot of people.”

Buford also mentioned that the community has the responsibility to be aware of drug abuse and to speak out against it.

“Substance abuse really gets in the way of many communities and it keeps children from becoming leaders,” Buford said. “It’s important to have those brave conversations, to open up and address the issues that are really affecting our Native youth. I think the more people who are vocal about prescription drug abuse and substance abuse in general, the more chances our communities will have to succeed.”

The workshop also provided information about how to protect medications from curious children and how to properly dispose of medications. But Buford stated that the best method is for parents to talk with their children about drug abuse.

“Prevention is something that needs to start early and happen often. Parents shouldn’t have the fear that talking about these issues will cause it to happen in the family. I think a lot of parents are afraid they are going to give their kids ideas when in reality it’s already all around them.”

Buford also mentioned parents may want to think of them in the same way as poisons: keep bottles out of reach and lock them away. Extra and old medications can also be disposed of at local police precincts and pharmacies.

The next event in the Urban Indian Coalition’s education series will be a workshop about suicide awareness. It will be held March 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Tempe Public Library. More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page.