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American Indians, Alaska Natives Hit Hardest by Methamphetamine OD Surge

January 22, 2021

Methamphetamine overdose deaths soared across the U.S. from 2011-18, with American Indians and Alaska Natives registering the highest death rates overall, according to a study conducted at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The findings were published Thursday by JAMA Psychiatry. Research was based on data from the 2011-2018 Multiple Cause-of-Death records from CDC’s National Vital Statistics System.

“While much attention is focused on the opioid crisis, a methamphetamine crisis has been quietly, but actively, gaining steam—particularly among American Indians and Alaska Natives, who are disproportionately affected by a number of health conditions,” Nora D. Volkow, MD, NIDA director and a senior author of the study, said in a news release. “American Indian and Alaska Native populations experience structural disadvantages but have cultural strengths that can be leveraged to prevent methamphetamine use and improve health outcomes for those living with addiction.”

During the period studied, deaths involving non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives more than quadrupled, from 4.5 to 20.9 per 100,000 people, with dramatic increases for both men (5.6 to 26.4 per 100,000) and women (3.6 to 15.6 per 100,000 from 2012 through 2018). In addition to higher death rates among non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives, higher overdose death rates were observed in men vs. women in each racial/ethnic group studied. Still, deaths among non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native women outpaced those among Black, Asian and Hispanic men.

In the release announcing its findings, NIDA suggested that leveraging American Indian and Alaska Native traditional practices, including talking circles and ceremonies, can “offer a unique and culturally resonant way to promote resilience to help prevent drug use among young people.” The institute also recommended development and implementation of more culturally appropriate and community-based prevention strategies, early intervention strategies that target youth and families, and provider and community education initiatives.

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