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Kickapoo Tribe in Texas Fighting Inhalant Addiction


July 1997

The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas has been battling inhalant abuse for almost 25 years, according to an article in Viewpoint, the newsletter of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC). NIPC reports that about 90 of the 450 people who are legal members of the tribe are addicted to spray paint. Spray paint "threatens to do what 350 years of hardship could not: extinguish the traditional Kickapoo way of life from the earth," says the Traditional Counsel ("Making a Difference: Inhalant Treatment Facility Helps Kickapoo Tribe Fight Inhalant Addiction," Viewpoint, Summer 1997, p. 2).

The Kickapoo, who live on a 123-acre reservation near Eagle Pass, Texas, are extremely impoverished. Spray paint is abused in part because it is less expensive and provides longer periods of intoxication than alcohol. Paint also induces hallucinations, which users report as a positive aspect of its use in part because of tribal traditions. It also alleviates hunger. Often, paint inhalation is initiated by kin, either through coercion or as a gift from elders, whose cannot be refused for risk of offense.

The Kickapoo Healing Grounds is working to reverse the trend of inhalant addiction in the tribal population. Established in 1993, the Healing Grounds is funded by a $350,000 two-year grant from the Federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and a $400,000 yearly grant from Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA). TCADA also gives the center a $120,000 yearly grant for a prevention/intervention program.

Eric Fredlund, author of a TCADA study on the Kickapoo paint users and director of the Healing Grounds, says chronic spray paint inhalation has resulted in toluene addiction and ostracization of Kickapoo members from their community. The Healing Grounds program is staged in three phases of treatment that address the physical, mental and nutritional problems that accompany toluene addiction. The treatment process lasts over a year, and many patients are admitted to the program 2 to 3 times before they can kick the habit.

Kickapoo tradition is an important factor in the treatment process. The center has de-emphasized clinical confrontation because it violates the Kickapoo view of harmony as a cultural ideal. Furthermore, treatment is complicated by kin relationships, which require varying degrees of deference and respect, and by the migrant worker lifestyle. Fredlund says that chronic users who have effectively dealt with their addiction have been invited back into traditional activities that are central to the Kickapoo way of life.

NPIC works to educate the public about the dangers of inhalants. They recently established a web site at See "Calendar" section on back page of this issue of NewsBriefs for information about the NIPC conference in August in Tennessee.

NPIC - 1201 W. Sixth St., Suite C-200, Austin, TX 78703, Tel: (800) 269-4237, Fax: (512) 477-3932, E-mail:

For more information on the Kickapoo Healing Grounds, contact Eric Fredlund at (210) 758-8038.