Pubdate: Sun, 18 Dec 2005
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Jordan Schrader
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


CHEROKEE -- A na le ni sgi: In the Cherokee tongue, it means, "they are 
beginning." It's also the name of a program trying to offer a new beginning 
to drug users among the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Leaders of the 
tribe say expanding treatment for drug addicts is one of many signs the 
tribe has made its own promising beginning in the fight against 

Tribal leaders saw meth use grow on the reservation -- as it has throughout 
Western North Carolina, where hundreds of meth labs have been discovered 
this year. Cherokee made changes in treatment, law enforcement and public 
awareness that state officials and experts hail as a model for other 

Lower levels of income and education help explain the appeal of drugs for 
some members of the tribe, said Mickey Strother, manager of the behavioral 
health program A Na Le Ni Sgi (ah NAH la NEE shgee). On the reservation, 
19.7 percent of families lived below the poverty line in 1999, more than 
twice the 9 percent of North Carolina families living in poverty. More than 
8,000 people lived on the reservation in 1999. "When you have generational 
hopelessness, when you have people who have been put down and left on the 
fringes of society," Strother said, "drug dealers prey on these people 
because they want to alter their perceptions and the way they feel." 
Cherokee Indian Police Chief Eric Pritchett said more drugs on the 
reservation come from Mexico than from local meth labs. But he said that 
flow has slowed since the Eastern Band stepped up its anti-drug efforts. He 
pointed to declines in police calls for service this year -- 3,923 calls in 
the first seven months of 2005 from 4,647 in the same period in 2004 -- and 
in burglaries, down to 66 from 82 last year. Burglary has increased on the 
reservation because of drugs, Principal Chief Michell Hicks said.

"These meth users," he said, "most of them don't work, and they've got to 
get money from somewhere." Among the strategies Hicks said the tribe has 
adopted to curb drugs:   A law regulating the sale of cold-medicine tablets 
containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, ingredients in meth, that is 
stricter than the one North Carolina passed this year. The Cherokee law 
passed in July requires buyers to get the drugs from a pharmacist. Unless 
the Tribal Council votes to keep that version of the law, however, the less 
restrictive state version will replace it on Jan. 15.

An anonymous drug hotline to assuage the fears of potential tipsters. 
Pritchett said tips on the hotline have led to more than 50 
arrests.   Encouraging neighborhood watches and connecting them with 
police.   A task force in which Cherokee police work with Swain and Jackson 
counties and the FBI. The other agencies can arrest suspects who have fled 
the reservation.

Devoting three police officers to narcotics instead of one, and installing 
a canine division with three drug dogs.

A contract with a private company to test confiscated drugs. Other law 
enforcement in North Carolina rely on the State Bureau of Investigation for 
testing, whose backlog of cases can delay court proceedings for 
months.   Televised anti-drug rallies and proclamations.

Then there is A Na Le Ni Sgi, started in September 2004 to serve drug 
addicts and mental health patients. It averaged 478 meetings with patients 
per month from January to August, up from 91 in its first four months. An 
addict might spend a few months doing individual and group or family 
therapy in the program. But the particularly strong addictive properties of 
meth require 12 to 24 months to recover, longer than cocaine or heroin. So 
meth users might benefit more from a "wellness court" approved last week by 
the Tribal Council, which Strother said would offer nonviolent criminals 
with drug and alcohol problems a 12-to-18-month treatment program in lieu 
of a jail sentence.

"That's where we will really start to work with meth clients," Strother 
said. Cherokee has made advances against meth partly because it enlists the 
public to help police, said Professor Gordon Mercer of Western Carolina 
University. "They have had one of the very best education programs," said 
Mercer, director of WCU's Public Policy Institute, which is preparing a 
report on the WNC meth problem. He called the Eastern Band's program one of 
the most effective in the region.

Thanks to tribe members' help, Hicks said, Cherokee is winning its war on 
drugs. "Our community is pretty tight-knit," he said, "and I think that has 
really helped us with our approach."
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