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Native Americans and Opium Use

Native Americans and Opium UseWhile opium is not traditionally associated with Native Americans, recent increases in the popularity of this ancient and deadly drug in North America have drug enforcement and healthcare professionals concerned. Native Americans do experience substance abuse and addiction problems at rates that are disproportionately high for the size of their population, but that is due to disproportionate levels of the following challenges:

  • Poverty
  • Lack of resources
  • High unemployment
  • Racial and cultural discrimination

Racist clichés and stereotypes abound about Native Americans and addiction. The image of the peace pipe shapes many people’s imagination about the first Americans in a way that is simply not true. While there are some tribes that use mind-altering hallucinogens as a part of their spiritual rituals, those substances are not opium. The addictive substance the North American natives introduced Europeans and the rest of the world to was tobacco.

What Is Opium?

Opium comes from the Middle Eastern areas that now include Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been used as a recreational and medicinal drug for thousands of years in Asia, Europe, and Africa. It became a major problem for the people of China hundreds of years ago and is currently still used in that country, as well as in India and other Eastern nations. Native Americans were not exposed to opium until it was brought to North America by European explorers, and it seems the drug never caught on the way that alcohol or marijuana did.

While Native Americans are far more likely to abuse alcohol than opium, the ancient narcotic is experiencing a minor renaissance among young people in general due to its retro appeal. This new crop of users must certainly contain some Native Americans in the mix, but there is no evidence that they are turning to opium in any significant numbers. Opium tar can be found at music festivals, on college campuses, and in some urban areas, but the tar is far more likely to be distilled into morphine or heroin for ease in smuggling and profit potential.

Risks of Opium Use

Many young people believe that because opium is a naturally occurring substance that has been used for thousands of years, it must somehow be safer that more modern drugs, such as heroin or hydrocodone. The truth is that opium is highly addictive and deadly. In fact, it is the root chemical of all opiates. The compounds in opium (and its derivatives) block physical and emotional pain in users by binding to the chemical receptors the brain uses to send and receive pain signals. In the process, it gives users a strong relaxing euphoria that the brain finds powerfully addictive both physically and psychologically. Individuals with underlying or co-occurring disorders are especially vulnerable to opiate addiction after even one use.

Opiate Escalation and Addiction

The body develops a tolerance to opium very quickly. People who smoke or ingest it, the most popular means of administration for its crude form, will soon find that those means of delivery simply can’t get them the high they seek any longer. They will need larger and more frequent doses in order to feel the sensation they crave. At this point, many opium users escalate to “harder” drugs, such as heroin.

24 Hour Opium Helpline

If you or someone you know needs help overcoming opium addiction, please call our toll-free helpline today. Lasting recovery requires comprehensive psychological and physical treatment. We can help you find the best program for your specific needs. Call now.