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Drug Awareness and Treatment Services for the Deaf in a Hearing World:

By Nathan Fesler
April 4, 2009

Drug Awareness and Treatment Services for the Deaf in a Hearing World

There has been a long running history in America to ignore groups of Americans who happen to be other than the dominant majority group.  More so when linguistically speaking the Deaf community has been estimated (it's important to note there isn't a definitive statistical number) to comprise of one half of a percent of the total United States population (Guthmann).  As such, the Deaf community is largely ignored causing a shortage of services for the Deaf community in many areas.  One such area is the lack of drug awareness and prevention services available to the young Deaf people.  This is particularly concerning when drug abuse is just as prevalent within the Deaf community as it is within the hearing community.  This drug abuse is attributed to the fact that young Deaf tend to experience high levels of distress, isolation, bullying, and exclusion from the mainstream hearing culture in the school setting ("Drug education for young deaf people"). This can be further exacerbated when 90 percent of Deaf children have hearing parents, in which serious communication barriers can exist (Guthmann).  Unfortunately the knowledge of drug awareness by young Deaf people is lacking, due to the almost exclusive use of oral communication to convey information.  When information concerning substance abuse and treatment does reach the young Deaf people it is often received fragmentally and slow (Guthmann).  Furthermore, the lack of treatment services that are used to address the drug abuse in young Deaf people are almost exclusively catering to the needs of the hearing majority.  Theodore G. MacKinney and others cite, "fewer than 10% of deaf patients reported being offered an ASL interpreter when they were hospitalized" (MacKinney et al.).  This alarming statistic underlies the problem of the disconnect between the Deaf patient and the doctor due to a language barrier. This of course directly impacts the effectiveness of the treatment, and lowering the willingness of the Deaf patient to continue.  This all makes drug awareness and treatment that caters to the needs of the Deaf community that much more important.

As outlined by Guthmann what is essential for any successful treatment plan to work requires a staff fluent in ASL and Deaf culture.  This provides a direct link that allows the Deaf patient to adequately communicate and feel understood.  Secondly Guthmann also notes that treatments need to minimize reading and writing (tools useful for hearing people), and instead implement the use of visual aids to again reduce the language barrier. Lastly Guthmann also notes that it is important to use telecommunication devices for the Deaf when needed, as another means to allow adequate communication between the Deaf patient and the doctor (Guthmann).

Sadly the hearing world still largely persists in ignoring the needs of the Deaf community.  Public health services are still almost exclusively tailored to hearing people, which further perpetuates the language barrier.  As such the vast majority of treatment and awareness programs continue to be vastly inadequate for the needs of the Deaf community.  The unfortunate reality is programs outlined by Guthmann are still too few and far between. 


"Drug education for young deaf people." Drug & Alcohol Education and Prevention Team. 2004. DrugScope. 5 Apr 2009 <>.

Guthmann, Debra. "Is There a Substance Abuse Problem Among Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals?." The Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals. 5 Apr 2009 <>.

MacKinney, Theodore, Donna Walters, Geoffrey L. Bird, and Ann Butler Nattinger. "Improvements in preventive care and communication for deaf patients." Journal of General Internal Medicine March 1995. Pg 133. 4 April 2009 .

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