By Judith Van Dongen, WSU Spokane Office of Research

SPOKANE, Wash. – With support from a five‑year, $7.1 million NIH grant, a new WSU‑led national research center is working toward identifying and promoting effective treatments to reduce alcohol abuse among Native people.

The Native Center for Alcohol Research and Education (NCARE) combines faculty and resources at WSU, the University of Colorado Denver, and the University of Washington.

The center’s researchers are collaborating with tribal partners to test the effectiveness of three interventions in different settings:

  • A culturally adapted intervention to reduce risky drinking and increase contraception use to prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies among women from a Northern Plains tribe in South Dakota.
  • A talking circle intervention to reduce harmful behaviors and improve quality of life and health care use among patients with alcohol problems at a Seattle‑based clinic serving Native people.
  • A combination of motivational interviewing and patient navigation to increase enrollment in outpatient alcohol treatment programs and prevent readmissions for detox treatment among individuals discharged from a Native detox center in Fairbanks, Alaska.

NCARE also will provide junior researchers with grants of up to $40,000 per year for pilot projects related to alcohol use and abuse in Native communities.

Contrary to popular belief, recent research suggests that Native people are less likely to consume alcohol than non‑Natives, said the center’s principal investigator Dedra Buchwald, a professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and director of the WSU Initiative for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH). However, those who do drink are more likely to engage in heavy drinking and binge drinking. Combined with reduced access to behavioral health care services faced by many American Indians and Alaska Natives, this tendency toward excessive drinking has contributed to high rates of liver disease, birth defects caused by fetal alcohol exposure, homelessness, unemployment, and other issues.

Through NCARE, Buchwald and her colleagues will advance the current state of knowledge and could potentially improve the quality of life for Native people with alcohol use disorders, their families, and their communities.

“We have been describing alcohol abuse in Native communities for decades,” Buchwald said. “It’s time to start developing the types of interventions that are needed and acceptable in these settings so we can ultimately end the alcohol-related devastation experienced by some American Indian and Alaska Native communities.”

As part of its mission, the center has a dedicated team of faculty and staff who will disseminate research findings to Native communities, their health care providers, researchers, and the media to encourage the implementation of new practices. In addition, they will provide education to participating tribes and tribal organizations and will keep them apprised of the progress of research being conducted.

WSU faculty associated with the center span three colleges — the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, College of Nursing, and Edward R. Murrow College of Communication. The center includes 12 Native investigators, which Buchwald said is key to the center’s success.

“Native researchers typically have a strong interest in the disparities that affect their population and a keen interest in the area of study,” she said. “Involving Native investigators helps build trust and facilitates relationships with Native communities.”

Support for the center comes from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s P60 grant program, which has funded comprehensive alcohol research centers for more than 15 years. NCARE is the first center funded through this program that focuses exclusively on alcohol-related disparities experienced by an ethnic minority population, Buchwald said.