Q&A: A Regional Approach to Helping Native Youth Beat Addiction

A happy Native American family.

The Indian Health Service funds 11 regional centers across the country that treat Native youth with substance abuse problems. We spoke to Skye Bass, an IHS public health specialist, about the culturally specific approach used by the Youth Regional Treatment Centers.

NCFY: What do the IHS-funded Youth Regional Treatment Centers offer Native youth that can’t be found in other substance abuse treatment centers?

Bass: The Indian Health Service-funded treatment centers are unique due to the fact that emphasis on American Indian and Alaska Native culture is a central component of treatment.

This emphasis is reflected in most, if not all, aspects of programming, including the design and location of the centers; Indian preference in staff hiring; holistic program components, such as family involvement, spiritual ceremonies, and a focus on healing and coping with grief; and finally, the affirmation of cultural identity, norms of sobriety, and personal responsibility to one’s Tribe and community.

NCFY: Why the regional approach?

Bass: The Indian Health Service is broken out into 12 physical areas: Alaska, Albuquerque, Aberdeen, Bemidji, Billings, California, Nashville, Navajo, Oklahoma, Phoenix, Portland and Tucson. The regional approach is so each center can provide treatment services to the Tribes in its respective area. 

NCFY: Most of the centers treat youth from many different Tribes. Given such diversity, how do the centers ensure that their services are culturally appropriate?

Bass: The centers typically integrate the cultural practices from the Tribes in their region. But they also work to individualize services based on the needs of each youth.

The centers use a variety of approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, and other evidence-based practices appropriate for American Indian and Alaska Native Youth. In addition, most of the centers also use practices tailored to American Indian and Alaska Native Youth, such as White Bison and American Indian Life Skills.

More Information

The IHS has a fact sheet (PDF, 753KB), a map (PDF, 397KB) and descriptions (PDF, 3.1 MB) of its Youth Regional Treatment Centers. For more information about working with Native youth, read “Ask NCFY: How Can My Organization Reach Out to Native American Youth?”

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