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AG: Three-pronged approach can fix meth problem

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final in a four-part series chronicling methamphetamine use on the Yankton Sioux Tribe Reservation in south-central South Dakota. Earlier this year, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley proclaimed South Dakota is...

Methamphetamine problem (Republic photo illustration)
Methamphetamine problem (Republic photo illustration)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final in a four-part series chronicling methamphetamine use on the Yankton Sioux Tribe Reservation in south-central South Dakota. Earlier this year, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley proclaimed South Dakota is under a methamphetamine epidemic, and the Department of Justice has reported that Native Americans have the highest rates of meth abuse in the nation.

 

South Dakota has a meth problem, but it can be solved.

That's according to South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who is well aware of what some have called a methamphetamine epidemic on both tribal and non-tribal lands in South Dakota, and he has a plan to overcome the state's meth addiction.

Part 1: Meth: A constant battle, 'a huge problem'

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Jackley recently told The Daily Republic that putting an end to the meth crisis will require a three-pronged approach.

"I think we can beat this, but I think it has a component of education, treatment through the drug court system, but then enforcement and accountability for the drug dealers and manufacturers," Jackley said.

Jackley's first step to overcoming South Dakota's addiction to meth is to raise awareness about the issue. And that's where the "No Meth Ever" campaign comes in.

"No Meth Ever isn't just the attorney general, it's a partnership that includes the U.S. Attorney as part of bringing in our reservations, because this is a statewide problem," Jackley said. "It involves education, it involves community organizational groups, the health care industry, so this is a long-term campaign that is very important to me and I think it's very important to South Dakota."

The anti-meth campaign asks college students to submit public service announcements, viral video scripts and storyboards to encourage young South Dakotans to stay away from the drug.

Jackley said the campaign has "hit the ground running," and the state's colleges and tech schools have embraced "No Meth Ever."

Jackley has also earmarked $35,000 from the state's Drug Control Fund to use to improve meth prevention efforts.

"So I'm taking the drug dealer's and the meth manufacturer's money and using it for awareness, not tax dollars," Jackley said.

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But Jackley said it will take more than a statewide education campaign to keep meth out of the hands of South Dakotans.

Part 2: METH: Impacting families, 'it's a devil.'

Jackley is also strong believer in drug courts, which were first established in South Dakota in 2007. Rather than punishing someone convicted of a drug-related offense, drug courts allow addicts access to rehabilitation services and consistent drug screening to assist in the transition to a drug-free lifestyle.

Jackley called drug courts the treatment component of his three-step approach, and he praised South Dakota Chief Justice David Gilbertson for promoting the program.

"I think when it's a personal user situation and there's an opportunity to save this individual - especially if they're a single mother or a circumstance like that - we need to do a better job, and drug courts do just that," Jackley said.

But, Jackley said, improved awareness and treatment won't wipe out the state's pervasive meth use without the help of one last critical piece of his plan: enforcement.

"I've been a strong advocate that we need to, as a state, figure out who's got an addiction problem we can help, but we also need to figure out who the manufacturers are and drug dealers and hold them accountable," Jackley said. "If you're dealing drugs, especially dealing drugs to children, you don't belong in drug court, you belong in the state penitentiary."

Since taking office, Jackley has continued fighting against the state's rampant meth use. In 2014, he supported a bill, which eventually became law, for South Dakota to become the 30th state to implement the National Precursor Log Exchange, which tracks the sale of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to manufacture meth.

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And with the passage of the bill, Jackley said, there have only been four meth labs found in the state from January to June in 2016. In comparison, Jackley told The Daily Republic earlier this month that there were 127 meth labs found from 2012 to 2015.

"I think we've beat the meth manufacturing, but we have a distribution problem," Jackley said.

Now, Jackley said, he's working with Montana's attorney general to find ways to limit the distribution of the drug. And he has some concerns that eradicating the meth problem could push some users to heroin, another hard drug making it's way into South Dakota.

"So they are a different drug, but often times with addiction, you see somebody that's an addict needing something," he said.

Additional help in Charles Mix County

As Jackley makes headway from Pierre to rid South Dakota of meth, another law enforcement official in Charles Mix County is doing what he can to keep his county meth-free.

When asked if he currently has enough full-time deputies to find meth users and distributors in his county, Sheriff Randy Thaler said he doesn't. But that's about to change.

Thaler recently sought funding for a sixth full-time deputy, and the Charles Mix County Commissioners granted his request. With an added deputy, Thaler said his office will be able to take more of a proactive approach to the fight against meth.

"It'll free up one of my deputies that does most of my investigations and assists the drug investigations," Thaler said. "So it will free him up some more and give him more time to do that, plus it will give an additional deputy on the streets at night."

The extra deputy on patrol will improve the office's interdiction efforts and allow more opportunities for traffic stops.

While traffic stops don't always result in arrests for possession of narcotics, Thaler said deputies occasionally make arrests for the ingestion of controlled substances. And those arrests can provide valuable information in drug investigations.

"In the long run, the investigation could possibly continue after that from information from a violator," Thaler said. "It's useful, because you always obtain information that could be used subsequently to take the investigation further where possibly a source of the product could be revealed."

Despite the addition of the new deputy, who the Sheriff's Office can hire in 2017, Thaler isn't as optimistic as Jackley that the problem can be solved.

Due to the existence of Yankton Sioux Tribal land in Charles Mix County, Thaler said it can be difficult to assist the tribal police when requested.

"It's going to be tough to eliminate in my county when you've got cross-jurisdictional areas unless all entities take an active approach to it on tribal ground and off tribal ground," Thaler said. "Federal, state and local, we have to all take an active approach into it."

Part 3: Charles Mix schools fight to keep students meth-free

Thaler said the cross-jurisdictional challenges could be improved, but he has yet to convince the Yankton Sioux Tribe Council to approve a mutual aid agreement that would allow his deputies to help in tribal police and tribal police to assist in matters in Charles Mix County.

"The ball's kind of in their court whether they're going to approve it or not approve it," Thaler said about the agreement he's promoted for six years.

Lawmakers take action

Not to be left out, state legislators are also working to find solutions to the meth problem.

State Sen. Jim White, of Huron, is leading a Substance Abuse Prevention study alongside 10 other legislators to help determine the best methods of preventing the use of meth and prescription drugs in South Dakota.

"We're all about prevention, not necessarily treatment or law enforcement," White said. "So we've kind of turned our attention mainly now to what can we do on the reservation since the governor's initiative covered a major portion of the general segment of South Dakota."

White was referencing the Meth Changes Everything campaign, which operates under the South Dakota Department of Social Services. According to Tia Kafka, communications director for the department, the campaign is geared toward educating students across the state about the dangers of meth use and the "devastating effects" of the drug.

This fall, Kafka said, drug prevention providers will be contact schools and communities to participate in the campaign, which is available for both tribal and non-tribal communities.

In an effort not to overlap the campaign, White said his committee will focus on reservation-specific solutions. One proposal the committee heard would provide an animated video about substance abuse to be played in public places and health clinics on tribal ground.

White said he's now tasked his fellow committee members to generate ideas, which will be discussed at a final meeting in late September or early October.

As far as possible legislation to address meth prevention, White said it's still possible.

"Well, again, ours is prevention, so the funding necessary to do that would probably require legislation," White said. "There's got to be revenue to do it."

With these state and local efforts in the works, Jackley, Thaler and White all hoped to finally put an end to a drug Jackley described as something that can increase "a likelihood you're eventually going to do something violent to somebody you love and that loves you."

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