HURON – South Dakota prison inmates have banded together to battle back against the runaway epidemic of methamphetamine addiction, a problem that is even more serious on the state’s Indian reservations, one of the organization’s board members and its legal advisor said.
“We’re making progress, we feel, and it doesn’t cost the taxpayers one penny,” Huron attorney Ron Volesky said Thursday.
“This is a grassroots movement among inmates themselves,” he said. “What better way to address an issue like this than from within?”
“Fathers Against Meth” is attempting to break the cycle of meth addiction in rural communities, particularly in Indian country where unemployment and alcoholism are also prevalent.
Where once the overriding drugs of choice were marijuana, heroin and LSD, more and more people are turning to methamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant that produces an immediate “high” sensation that is quickly addictive.
“Methamphetamine is not physically addictive, but it is psychologically addictive,” Volesky said. “And don’t mess with meth because one time can get you hooked. One time.”
Speaking at the District 22 Democratic Forum, the former state senator said “Fathers Against Meth” has been followed by a “Mothers Against Meth” organization and, after a rally at the women’s prison in Pierre, by a nonprofit group called “Sobriety is Sacred” (SIS).
“Several years ago, we were talking about 500 or 600 arrests a year for meth, and now we see we’re over 4,000 I would think,” Volesky said. “I know last year we had 3,600 statewide.
“What do we do? We must not give up,” he said. “We must fight this cruel addiction.”
Legislators began talking about the concept of drug courts some years ago. In 2015, one was established in Beadle County. There are now 10 statewide.
“They’re doing good things,” he said.
Nearly 40 individuals have been enrolled in the drug court in Huron in the last several years as an alternative to prison. Currently, 17 are in the program and there have been a dozen graduation ceremonies.
“It’s not meth salvation,” Volesky said. “It takes time, effort, patience and work. A lot of dedication.”
He said the epidemic is rampant on the Indian reservations because the population is so vulnerable.
“When you introduce methamphetamine in a reservation environment that’s like throwing kerosene on a camp fire. It’s explosive,” he said.
Meth addiction and alcoholism are symptoms of the greater underlying issues in Indian country, like poverty, unemployment, family dysfunction, violence and disease, he said. The unemployment rate, for example, is 60 percent.
“If you had 60 percent unemployment in Huron, South Dakota, you’d have more drugs, more addictions, more violence, more crime,” Volesky said.
The suicide rate on reservations among native teens is two and a half times the national average. Three-fourths of youth age 12 to 20 die violently of homicide, intentional infliction of injuries and suicide.
“And a sad statistic is that meth can be manufactured in your basement, in your garage, in your kitchen,” he said.
There are no drug courts in Indian country, he said. Halfway houses are needed, as are more foster homes.
“We have to break down barriers and make life better for those that we can make it better for,” Volesky said.
“It does come down to personal responsibility,” he said. “All the programs in the world, all the speeches in the world, all the rallies in the world, still don’t make the final choice of the individual whether to be involved in this type of drug or not.”
Still, the three organizations headed by inmates are trying to make a difference, not only for Native Americans, but for everyone in South Dakota, he said.
Members of those groups realize the importance of going back home some day and staying sober and not becoming part of the alarming recidivism rate, but the more encouraging recovery rate, he said.
“We just try to bring understanding to the issue,” Volesky said. “We try to educate those who are there. And we try to equip them so when they go back home they can be warriors against meth and they can be warriors in the battle against meth.”