Alaska Congressman Shares Story of Granddaughter's Addiction

By Paul Gaita 08/09/18

During a public forum, US Rep Don Young revealed that his 27-year-old granddaughter battles addiction and has relapsed three times.

Don Young
Photo via YouTube

U.S. Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) gave voice to the emotional toll taken on family and friends of individuals with substance dependency when he spoke about his granddaughter's struggle for sobriety at a public forum on August 1, 2018.

Speaking at an event on Alaska Native issues in Juneau, Young—who has a history of blunt and occasionally inflammatory statements on various social and political topics—spoke movingly about the sadness and frustration he has experienced while trying to help his granddaughter. He also noted that expanded access to treatment facilities is a requirement to assist those who hope to break the cycle of dependency.

Young, who at 85 is the longest currently serving member of the House of Representatives, visited the Juneau forum as part of an extended stay in southeast Alaska during the House's August recess. He was queried on a variety of subjects by members of the audience, including increased funding for the Indian Child Welfare Act and the National Rifle Association, which he supported. 

The focus turned to drug and alcohol dependency when Juneau resident Logan Henkins spoke about his battle with substance abuse, from which he said that he had been sober for 60 days. Young told the assembled audience that he was personally acquainted with the struggle through his 27-year-old granddaughter, whom he said had relapsed three times.

"The challenge we have is when she goes to rehab," said Young. "Where does she go when she gets out?" He noted that his granddaughter will experience weeks of sobriety before "she falls back to those that she ran with before. That is what drives me crazy," he said.

Young opined that stronger punishment of drug dealers, whom he told the audience were "killing your kids," would offer a solution, but also said that access to treatment is crucial for helping individuals like his granddaughter. "Support forces, halfway houses, some place you can stay away… we ought to have that," he stated.

Young, who is seeking re-election this year, also touched on substance dependency when he was asked to support Savanna's Act, a bill that would increase support for tribal governments to investigate missing and murdered Native American women. Young, who said that he would consider the legislation, added that the reason for these incidents is "mostly" related to drugs and alcohol, and added that tribal leaders needed to address the issue within their own ranks. 

"We have a responsibility within our own tribes," he said. This prompted a response from Richard Peterson, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, who said, "We're in this together, and we have to remember that. I remind you, congressman, sovereignty doesn't mean that we're alone." 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.