South Dakota and meth.
Those words didn’t go hand-in-hand before Monday’s announcement of the state’s new anti-meth campaign, but it’s what millions of people nationally are hearing about our state this week after Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration unveiled the “Meth. We’re on it.” campaign.
On social media, that tagline and the photos of farmers and churchgoers, children and coffee drinkers turned into a social media wildfire that yielded all kinds of memes and attention. One company started selling T-shirts saying “South Dakota is apparently on meth,” and the late-night comedians will surely have a few words on this ad campaign, too.
Most South Dakotans don’t appreciate being a laughingstock or the nation’s punch line. But here we are once again, harkening memories of “Don’t Jerk and Drive” regarding winter driving safety and “Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?” to drive economic development.
This one, however, seems different than those past messages. In short, it felt like a non-serious slogan to a very serious problem.
Our immediate response? What do the state’s law enforcement officials think of this saying? They know better than anyone the seriousness of meth’s consequences.
On Monday night and Tuesday morning, Noem tried to tweet through the noise, saying that the attention on meth as a problem is just what South Dakota needs. She noted that twice as many South Dakota 12- to 17-year olds report using meth in the past year than the national average, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and that South Dakota has made more than 5,500 arrests related to meth since the start of 2018.
Noem has been serious about responding to meth in South Dakota. She made it one of her priorities in her initial State of the State address, she held a summit between state and tribal leaders regarding meth in May and the state has hired additional law enforcement officers to specifically address stopping meth.
Our hope is that work isn’t undermined with an advertising campaign that has become nationally absurd. This entire anti-meth messaging campaign will cost $1.4 million. It’s hard not to think about where some of that money could be better spent addressing this issue. There had to be a better way to get South Dakota’s attention without alluding to the state’s residents being “on meth.” (The state’s anti-meth website is literally onmeth.com.)
This newspaper has written extensively about the impacts of meth in our communities, and the problem has not diminished. The state’s jails, prisons and courtrooms are filled with people who have been impacted by meth, and that trickles down to their families.
Noem and her administration are right that it does affect South Dakotans in all walks of life. But the phrasing certainly isn’t much of a winner.