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Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative

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Suicide and Methamphetamine abuse continue to plague Indian Country at substantially alarming rates. Not only does the act of suicide or addiction to methamphetamine affect the individual who is suffering, but it affects entire families, communities, and societies. For every young native person who has ended their life through suicide, for every methamphetamine house that is found in an Indian community, the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental well being of the surrounding society is seriously affected. In the case of a suicide, Indian Country has experienced high numbers of cluster suicides following the event, including family members attempting or completing. At a minimum, families and communities surviving a suicide are left with anger, fear, and sadness of the loss of, way too often, young vibrant native people with a real potential for an even greater future. A suicide in Indian Country shakes the entire foundational belief of many tribal communities that we live in balance with the world around us. The effects may be even more shattering when its a young person who is taking their own life in their hands through suicide, those who are so critical for the existence of our people. In the case of a Indian housing unit that has been the laboratory for methamphetamine production, the community around is left with more than just respiratory and other physical complications from breathing toxic air. The community is left with an aftermath of anger, fear, and sadness of the loss of their health, sometimes their lives, their own sense of security, and the broader impact on their existence through their children. 


The current state of suicide and methamphetamine in Indian Country has been a long-standing problem that is only partially reflected in the following statistics.


         Overall, the American Indian and Alaska Native suicide rate (17.9) for the three year period (2002-2004) in the IHS service areas is 1.7 times that of U.S. all races rate (10.8) for 2003. (IHS, Trends in Indian Health, 2002-2003).

         American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have the highest rates of Methamphetamine Abuse of any other ethnic group in the country (SAMHSA, 2005).

         Suicide is the second leading cause of death behind unintentional injuries for Indian youth ages 15-24 residing in IHS service areas, a rate that is 3.5 times higher than the national average. (IHS, Trends in Indian Health, 2002-2003).

         Reservation and Rural Native Communities have seen meth rates as high as 30% (Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing, 5-17-2006).

         Suicide is the 6th leading cause of death overall for males residing in IHS service areas, ranking higher than homicide. (IHS, Trends in Indian Health, 2002-2003).

         American Indian and Alaska Native young people ages 15-34 make up 64 percent of all suicides in Indian country. (IHS, Trends in Indian Health, 2002-2003).

         The FBI estimates that 40% of violent crime can be attributed to meth (Department of Justice, 10-13-2005).

         It is estimated that 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental illness, substance addiction, or both (NIH, 2008). Further, it is estimated that nearly 1 in 4 people in the US have a mental health disorder and only 1/3 of those people who have a mental illness ever receive treatment for it (US Surgeon Generals report on Mental Health, 1999).

The problems of meth and suicide in Indian Country have been well documented. Indian Country is at a critical crossroads, in that, it is time to devote our attention to understanding what works to prevent addictions and health conditions that lead to the devastating aftermath of methamphetamine abuse and suicide.  Although we know much more about the epidemiology of these problems within the community, we are now learning more and more about what is effective in prevention reflected in the following statistics:


  • Cultural and spiritual beliefs have been identified as a protective factor for both methamphetamine prevention (Native Wellness Institute, 2007) and suicidal behavior (Suicide Prevention Research Center, 2004).
  • Partnership for a Drug Free America reports a strong correlation between anti-drug marketing messages and adolescent substance use in that the more exposure to anti-drug messages the less likely the adolescent has used in the last 10 years. The 2008 Partnership Aptitude Tracking Study showed a 25% reduction in meth use among adolescents over 3 years (Partnership for a Drug Free America, 2009).
  •  Regular contacts with a person following a suicide attempt dramatically decreases the likelihood of a re-attempt (World Health Organization, 2008). 
  • Research indicates that 9 out of 10 youth will give definite signs that they are considering suicide (FMHI, 2003), lending support for efforts toward appropriate community training on suicide prevention and intervention. 

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The Suicide and Methamphetamine Initiative
In 2007, in an attempt to address the major public health crises, Congress passed an Amended H.R. 2764 which appropriated $14,000,000 in funding to tribal and urban communities for methamphetamine and suicide prevention. The National Tribal Advisory Committee on Behavioral Health (NTAC) made up of tribal leaders and national representatives were charged with making recommendations to the Indian Health Services (IHS) Director about how to distribute funds throughout Indian Country. After many months of deliberation, recommendations were delivered to the Director in November of 2008. The Director weighed the recommendations and made the final decision for funding distribution, which was announced from IHS in April of 2009. Since that time, 134 Federal, Tribal and urban Indian Programs have been awarded Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI) grants to carry out local programs in Indian country that prevent and/or treat meth addiction, suicide or both. The MSPI is a nationally-coordinated demonstration program that is supported by the IHS with programmatic technical assistance support provided by the National Indian Health Board and the National Council of Urban Indian Health.

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More Resources

  • Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative Social Marketing Campaign- Click here
  • Resource Links for MSPI Communities-Click Here
    Behavioral Health Communities of Learning Blog- Click here

  • MSPI National Partners- Click Here