Navajos battle a modern-day enemy: methamphetamine

Isabel Whitehair had never heard of methamphetamine before her 2-year-old son reached under the sink at bath time, pulled out a pipe and put it to his mouth.

"This is Daddy's," the boy told the Navajo woman. "Dad said it's lucky medicine."

A year after America's largest Indian reservation launched an attack on meth raising penalties, increasing training for police and developing an interagency task force the illegal and highly addictive drug is still very much a scourge of the Navajo Nation.

No statistics are kept on meth-related crime on the reservation. But cases like Whitehair's and that of an 81-year-old woman arrested last month on charges of dealing meth make it clear the problem has not gone away.

Lynette Willie, a spokeswoman for the Navajo Department of Behavioral Health Services, calls the drug "a modern-day enemy to the Navajo people."

"I've seen what it's done already," said Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. in a recent interview. "It's awful. It's horrible."

Police say there have been signs for several years of growing meth use on the reservation: more paranoia among people stopped for traffic violations, more meth paraphernalia littering the landscape, and tragic cases of meth-related violence and neglect.

In 2004, a father was accused of leaving his 18-month-old son alone on a hilltop. The man said he forgot about the child because he was high on meth. Police found the child dead. In 2005, authorities say, a man choked to death his 36-year-old wife. Investigators said the two had been smoking meth and drinking beer.

Police say meth has become a bigger law enforcement problem on the 300,000-member reservation than even alcohol, which has been devastating to Indians. Window Rock Sgt. Wallace Billie said the number of meth-related calls the department receives has surpassed those involving alcohol.

Last year, tribal lawmakers took action, criminalizing meth for the first time. Possession or sale of meth on the Navajo Nation is now punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 (Ђ4,135) fine. (Meth possession is already a federal offense, but federal authorities venture onto the reservation only in serious cases.)

There is no word in the Navajo language for methamphetamine; the closest is one that means "eating your body." Whitehair, who no longer lives with the boy's father, has her own term: "the devil's drug."

"It takes your conscience away," she said. "It takes away your ability to know right from wrong", reports AP.


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