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Substance abuse group learns it takes a village to combat substance abuse

By B.L. Azure
THHS PIO

Dr. Joshua Sparrow, associate professor at the Harvard School of Medicine, laid out the community approach to combating substance abuse. (B.L. Azure photo)Dr. Joshua Sparrow, associate professor at the Harvard School of Medicine, laid out the community approach to combating substance abuse. (B.L. Azure photo)

PABLO — The Flathead Indian Reservation is not alone in the struggle to put the skids on legal and illegal substance abuse. It is a problem in America that has no borders — it touches all regardless of race, social and economic stature, education level, and environment.

Most Americans are very concerned about the substance abuse issue and many are searching for answers, including the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people of the Flathead Reservation. The Flathead Reservation has realized the problem and is in the process of searching for answers. It’s a slow layer-by-layer peel of an onion but there are answers there.

The Early Childhood Services program recently brought Harvard Medical School associate professor Dr. Joshua D. Sparrow, MD, to give some insight on how he confronts the issue.

Dr. Sparrow’s work focuses on cultural adaptations of family support programs, organizational professional development, cross-sector collaboration, and aligning systems of care with community strengths and priorities.

In the 1990s, Dr. Sparrow worked with children hospitalized with severe psychiatric disturbances often associated with physical and sexual abuse, and for developmental delays aggravated by social and economic deprivation. That spiked his interest in the social determinants of mental health as well as community-based prevention and health promotion.

“You are working to take care of the issue. I have a sense that people here will accomplish this issue, this time,” Sparrow told the more than 30 folks in attendance at his recent presentation at Salish Kootenai College. “Your work will offer hope for people out there struggling with the problem.”

More than 30 people participated in the substance abuse presentation of Dr. Joshua Sparrow. (B.L. Azure photo)More than 30 people participated in the substance abuse presentation of Dr. Joshua Sparrow. (B.L. Azure photo)

The hope comes from a community-based approach. American Indian communities because of shared beliefs could potentially deal with the substance abuse issue better than the large unconnected communities.

“The solutions, the answers have to come from the community,” Sparrow said. “Humans have many things in common. Being human means protecting the young.”

The search for answers or solutions will take many steps, some small as well as some large strides. Prevention and intervention measures are some of the steps in the right direction.

Sparrow said some of the answers include community awareness and education. “Education and awareness increases self-control,” he said.

Sparrow suggested:
   • Providing activities with messages educating against all addictions,
   • Community training,
   • Education awareness,
   • Tribal Council media messages of support,
   • Reader boards with public announcements,
   • Billboards at reservation boundaries declaring a “War on Drugs,”
   • Involvement of the Tribal Defenders Office,
   • Visual markers for babies born addicted,
   • Education on drug behavior including physical and mental signs,
   • Stop enabling families and loved ones,
   • Reporting of users and dealers with law enforcement,

“Remember drug addiction is a disease. Offer positive encouragement; don’t be judgmental and treat people with compassion,” Sparrow said. “You all have a piece of the puzzle, you all need to know what the other pieces are doing and they need to be put together to combat this. This is not for the faint of heart or the impatient. This will take a long time to resolve.”

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