Celebrating Native American Indian Heritage Month

Lena Thompson, MPH
Research Associate
National American Indian and Alaska Native ATTC

November marks the celebration of Native American Indian Heritage Month, a time to honor the many achievements and contributions made by a group of people who are rising above grief and trauma. Within the American Indian culture are many different practices, legends, and people to celebrate. While flipping through American Indian Myths and Legends, a book of American Indian stories selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, I came across a Cherokee tale, reported by James Mooney in the 1890s. The tale is of how Grandmother Spider stole the sun.

In the story, the world was dark; animals and people could not see.  Fox told the others that people on the other side of the world had light but they did not share it with others. Possum said that he would be happy to steal a little of the sun so that those on his side of the world could also see. He had a big bushy tail that he would wrap the sun into and he would be able to come away, unnoticed. But when Possum tried this, the sun was so hot that it burned all of the fur off of his tail. He was discovered and the people on the other side of the world took their light back. This is how possums got their hairless tails. Next, Buzzard offered to steal the sun. He decided to put it on his head to fly it back to his side of the world, but when he did, the sun burned all of the feathers off of his head and he was also discovered. This is how buzzards got their bare heads. Finally, Grandmother Spider decided to give it a try. She built a thick-walled pot out of clay. Then she spun a web across the world and crept over, unnoticed. She snatched a piece of the sun, put it in her clay pot, and rushed home to share the light on her side of the world. Grandmother Spider brought sun, fire, and pottery-making to the people (Erdoes, Ortiz, 1984).

Native Americans used stories like this one to explain how things come to be. These stories are valuable because they tell a truth about humans who are searching for answers and explanations, as all humans do. As behavioral health professionals, it is important for us to acknowledge and celebrate this way of knowing. Spirituality has been associated with recovery from substance use disorders in Native Americans, yet much of the research that has been published on Native American substance use disorder treatment does not assess spirituality before, during, and after treatment (Greenfield, Hallgreen, Venner et al., 2015). As professionals who specialize in technology transfer, we are charged with the responsibility to make more than recommendations. We must encourage programs that incorporate spirituality into their programs to engage in evaluation. Since each tribe has different spiritual beliefs and practices, there may not be one perfect model for the rest to follow, but we can build a foundation of promising programs and practices from which others can learn.

For many years, American Indian and Alaska Native communities have been invisible to the dominant culture; their cultures were considered savage, resulting in a total lack of understanding of their very lengthy cultural heritage, ceremonies, and medical practices. During this month, I hope that Native Americans can take this opportunity to stand, visible to the rest of us, in their light. But like small piece of the sun Grandmother Spider brought to us, let’s encourage that light to grow and continue to shine with us throughout the year.

Our guest blogger:

Lena Thompson, MPH
After graduating from Drake University with a BA in International Relations, Lena worked in Iowa City as a Community Support Staff, assisting women with cognitive disabilities reach goals and live healthy lifestyles. She was able to blend her interests in human rights, global health, and community building as a Master of Public Health student at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. While pursuing her MPH, Lena worked on various health communications campaigns, including a Safe Teen Driving social media campaign and a video campaign in Lima, Peru. She earned her MPH in August 2014, joining the National American Indian and Alaska Native ATTC in November 2014. As a Research Associate at the Center, Lena assists with curriculum development and technical assistance projects.

Erdoes, R., & Ortiz, A. (1984). Grandmother Spider Steals the Sun. In American Indian myths and legends (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 154-155). New York, New York: Pantheon Books.

Greenfield, B., Hallgren, K., Venner, K., Hagler, K., Simmons, J., Sheche, J., . . . Lupee, D. (2015). Cultural adaptation, psychometric properties, and outcomes of the Native American Spirituality Scale. Psychological Services, 12(2), 123-133. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ser0000019 

UNITE to Face Addiction: Celebrating Recovery and Fighting Status Quo

Dr. Gary Fisher
Founder, Center for the Application of Substance Use Technologies (CASAT)
University of Nevada Reno
Former Principal Investigator and Director, Mountain West ATTC 

UNITE to Face Addiction Rally concert-goers.
Photo: UNITE to Face Addiction
For those of us in long-term recovery, the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally was powerful on so many levels. On October 4, 2015, an estimated 30,000 recovering individuals and our allies gathered at The Mall in Washington, D.C. The speakers included well-known public figures such as U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Senator Edward Markey, and Dr. Oz; public figures affected by family members’ addiction, like Allison Janney, whose brother died of an overdose; and “ordinary” recovering folks like those in the audience. Recovering musicians provided incredible entertainment:  Joe Walsh, Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, and Paul Williams.

New Resources from the Center of Excellence on Racial and Ethnic Minority YMSM + LGBT Populations

Brandy Oeser, MPH
Project Director
YMSM-LGBT Center of Excellence

The project is funded by SAMHSA as a supplement to ATTC Network and represents a collaboration between three ATTC Centers: Pacific Southwest ATTC, the National American Indian and Alaska Native ATTC, and the Northeast and Caribbean ATTC.  The National Hispanic and Latino ATTC and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science are also lending their expertise in working with racial and ethnic minorities. Charles R. Drew University is a Los Angeles-based Historically Black Graduate Institute and charter member of the Hispanic-Serving Health Professional Schools.

One of our major deliverables for this first year is to release the revision of A Provider's Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals. The CoE worked in conjunction with many subject area providers and experts, who reviewed and discussed current administrative and clinical practices for treating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals with substance use disorders. This team of experts then developed and edited the resulting training curriculum. 

The CoE piloted this version of the training curriculum across the country among substance abuse treatment providers, counselors, therapists, administrators, and other professionals working with YMSM and LGBT clients. The full-day training consists of six modules, beginning with an introduction to key terms and concluding with  treatment considerations for clinical work. This includes how to conduct an assessment, take a family history, and other evidence-based practices. The other four modules within the curriculum address the specific needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. This program can be modified to a half-day training, and we are developing other modules on topics such as cultural diversity and legal issues.

A new curriculum: Reducing SUD and new HIV infections among YMSM 
Our CoE is also finalizing a curriculum that addresses the needs of YMSM. This curriculum includes the latest research-based information to help decrease the rate of substance abuse and new HIV infections among racial/ethnic minority YMSM clients. The full-day curriculum includes seven modules, and can also be modified to a half-day training. The modules cover: 
  • Epidemiology, including the prevalence and related risk factors of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), co-occurring substance use and mental health issues, homelessness, suicide, and trauma/violence among YMSM. 
  • Race/ethnicity and its impact on the various risk factors. 
  • Cultural competency. This module defines cultural competence, humility, proficiency, and how to identify and incorporate practices that engage and retain YMSMs in care. 
  • Minority Stress and its impact on the physical and mental health of YMSMs. 
  • Trans men and their needs.
  • Treatment considerations and best practices relevant to providers working with YMSM 
Mark your calendars
Beginning in February 2016, we will be holding Training of Trainer events across the country. These TOT’s will help develop a wide number of trainers, who will then be able to deliver these exciting new trainings. Watch your email for an announcement of the TOT dates and how to apply to become a trainer.

Please visit our website (www.ymsmlgbt.org ) for more information. 

UNITE to Face Addiction: I am Not Alone

Brendan Gault
University of Nevada Reno Recovery & Prevention Community

Brendan (second from left) in front of the White House
with fellow students from NRAP: 
Alicia M., Dan S., and Claire C.
I am a person in recovery from a substance use disorder and a member of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Recovery & PreventionCommunity (NRAP). I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally in our nation’s capital.
     UNITE to Face Addiction was an attempt to raise awareness about the addiction crisis facing our country. The object of the rally, which was held on the National Mall, was to show that there really are people, like me, who are affected and, more importantly, recovering from the disease of addiction.

"Goomers" and Frequent Flyers: Adjusting Attitudes

Louise Haynes, MSW
Medical University of South Carolina

Have you ever heard the term "Goomer?"  It's the acronym for "Get out of my emergency room" and was the 1970s term for a person who would be later called a "frequent flyer"--someone who was seen repeatedly in hospital emergency departments. The person often had a mental illness, substance use disorder, or both. "Goomers" were reviled by medical residents working in emergency rooms because they required lots of time and attention, and visit after visit, they never seemed to get any better. For many physicians, exposure and training in the treatment of addiction has consisted of caring for the down-and-out emergency room patient who barely survived from crisis to crisis. Physicians-in-training rarely, if ever, saw substance abusing patients get better, and their knowledge of what we know as recovery was non-existent.

Is that still true today?


Weapons of Mass Ridiculousness: Stomping out Teen Smoking

Maureen Fitzgerald
Communications Coordinator, ATTC Network Coordinating Office
Editor, NIATx

This month's ATTC Network iTraining (Thursday, October 22, 2:00-3:30 ET) features an overview of SAMHSA's 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health results. Jonaki Bose, Chief of the Populations Survey Branch at SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, will give a "big picture" of the results and also discuss the most significant changes since last year's survey.

Register for the webinar here.

One promising result in this year's survey is the decrease in tobacco use among teens. I checked in with Dr. Bruce Christiansen, tobacco researcher at the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, on what factors might be contributing to that trend.

A variety of things, says Dr. Christiansen.


UNITE to Face Addiction: This is just the beginning

Kim Johnson, PhD
Co-Director, ATTC Network Coordinating Office
Deputy Director, NIATx

Two days before the UNITE to Face Addiction rally, forecasters were predicting that Hurricane Joaquin would hit the East Coast by the weekend. Everyone kept saying that the hurricane was only a metaphor; that people in recovery had been to hell and back and Hurricane Joaquin didn't scare them.

Thankfully, Joaquin changed direction at the last minute and headed out to sea. Talk about a sea change. We didn't need to prove anything, as thousands of people gathered under overcast skies on October 5 to celebrate recovery on the National Mall.