How Hmong and Karen community leaders are fighting youth addiction

Four people sit on a stage.
From left to right: Say Klo Wah, François Vang, Dr. Dziwe Ntaba and Abdirahman Mukhtar take part in a panel discussion on substance abuse and addiction in the Karen and Hmong communities at Washington Technology Magnet School on Nov. 14.
Tim Evans for MPR News | 2023

Karen and Hmong parents in Minnesota say they are increasingly alarmed by the substance abuse they see in their communities’ youth. Opioids are the largest problem, specifically the the deadly drug fentanyl.

MPR News partnered with Sahan Journal to talk about this painful topic, at a special North Star Journey Live event in mid-November, hosted at the Washington Technology Magnet School in St. Paul.

There, health leaders, community members and youth advocates explored the complex interplay of genetic factors and life experiences that contribute to substance abuse, addiction and mental health challenges in Minnesota’s Hmong and Karen communities.

They also addressed the long-lasting impacts of immigration experiences, highlighting the urgent need for improved mental health data within Minnesota’s communities of color.

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Listen to this special North Star Journey Live discussion, moderated by MPR News host Angela Davis and Sahan Journal’s Samantha HoangLong.


  • Say Klo Wah is a youth case manager at the Karen Organization of Minnesota.

  • François Vang is a clinical social worker who currently works as a therapist at Nystrom and Associates.

  • Dr. Dziwe Ntaba is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Thanks to a Bush Foundation Fellowship in 2021, Dr. Ntaba also worked within the Minneapolis Health Department’s Opioid Response Team.

  • Abdirahman Mukhtar is a community leader, youth advocate and the founder of Daryeel Youth, a nonprofit organization that specifically targets substance abuse and addiction issues among East African youth in the Twin Cities.

North Star Journey Live (formerly known as In Focus) is a live event series and reoccurring topic on MPR News with Angela Davis centered around what Minnesota’s diverse communities need to thrive.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Angela Davis podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.