FARMINGTON — State and local officials report a new national anti-methamphetamine advertising campaign designed specifically to target American Indians only scratches the surface of a widespread drug problem and does not address the real issue.

"The problem isn't getting the information out to the public, it's finding the services or putting them in place," State Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, said.

Meth-use rates among the American Indian population is nearly two times higher than other groups, according to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Television commercials, print ads and billboard advertisements launched Wednesday by the Office of the National Drug Control Policy will focus on prevention by building cultural pride among American Indians in 15 states. The advertisements will run for about three months, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

One of the benefits of a national media campaign is its ability to reach a greater number of people, said Dan Darnell, executive director of San Juan County Safe Communities Initiative.

"I say (the advertising) works because anytime you can get information in the hands of people that didn't have it before, it's got to have a tangible effect," Darnell said. "However, does it have a direct impact in terms of stopping the flow? Absolutely not."

The drug of choice in the Four Corners region is 95 percent meth, based on law enforcement seizure rates, Darnell said.


Solving the issue has to be a combination of efforts, including law enforcement, rehabilitative and prevention services and education, he said.

Law enforcement officials report the majority of meth is trafficked into the region from Arizona, California and Mexico.

"Meth is a continuing problem within the reservation," said Begaye, who claims the drug also is being produced in areas on the reservation.

A lack of services and manpower prohibits officials from adequately addressing the problem, they say. The Navajo Nation Behavioral Health Service, one of only a few organizations which offer treatment, is in its infancy and the organization does not yet have the capability to combat such a widespread problem, Begaye said.

More focus is needed on laws, punishment for offenders and rehabilitation for those who are addicted. Law enforcement, in addition, struggles to police the issue.

"Uniformly, we don't have a Navajo Nation Code which really addresses ways to curb or prevent methamphetamine manufacturing," said Begaye.

National and state officials are hoping the advertisements will aid in addressing prevention issues, but recognize the need for additional services.

"While the goal of the Native American Anti-Meth Ad Campaign is to prevent meth use before it starts, the Office of the National Drug Control Policy recognized the importance of early intervention and treatment," according to a prepared statement by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Drug Control Policy officials state President Obama's 2011 budget includes funding for new screening, intervention programs, treatment services and additional personnel, according to the statement.

Local officials believe without a comprehensive plan, meth abuse will continue to plague the Navajo Nation.

"The people on the front line are spinning their wheels on the messages," Begaye said. "To really say let's put out billboards and flyers' specifically won't work unless you have a team that will control and combat the issue and you have the treatment areas, prisons and laws. There has to be a wake-up call."

Elizabeth Piazza: