HURON — Even with three more investigators on the job, drug arrest numbers continue to rise to levels that should shock the public, Huron Police Chief Kevin Van Diepen said Monday.
Although many may disagree, he maintains that marijuana is a stepping stone to harsher drugs, leading to methamphetamine, heroin and extremely dangerous opioids like fentanyl, he said.
A few years ago in Huron, the deaths of three people within four months were linked to fentanyl overdoses, Van Diepen said.
“Because they don’t understand what fentanyl does,” he said at the Beadle County Republican Women luncheon.
“There is a reason that doctors use it for very specific purposes,” he said. “But these kids all think that, ‘I can handle this, I use methamphetamine.’”
Since his days as a young Huron police officer, when for a time he was loaned by the department to serve on an area drug task force whose duties are now the responsibility of the state Division of Criminal Investigation, he has been adamant about trying to control drugs.
“For two years I did nothing but work drug cases,” Van Diepen said. “I found a niche that I really enjoyed.”
Despite working 80-hour work weeks, “the problems seemed to get worse and worse and worse,” he said.
Police investigators handled 72 marijuana cases in 2017, and so far this year have worked half that number.
“But marijuana is one of the things that we run into on a daily basis,” he said. “But along with that comes methamphetamine, which is a big problem.
“But that doesn’t encompass the biggest problem that we have with that,” Van Diepen said. “The biggest problem is that a methamphetamine case that we may have could include up to 10, 15, 20 different people involved in a case.”
While there were 43 cases last year, he predicts the department will probably break 100 by the end of December.
When the task force was doing drug buys years ago, they were worried about buying a quarter ounce of marijuana. “Now they’re buying pounds of methamphetamine,” he said.
An individual was just sentenced to prison after DCI agents bought five ounces of meth in a residential neighborhood in Huron.
Most of the meth comes into the United States from Mexico, where drug manufacturers can make it in isolated areas where no one will bother them. It’s far more difficult to make it in communities like Huron, Van Diepen said, where it’s hard to get the ingredients and where neighbors will report anything suspicious.
Studies on marijuana show that it is a stepping stone to harsher drugs, he said.
“When the people say we should legalize marijuana, well, that’s all fine and dandy, but then you’re opening the door to people graduating to methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl,” he said.
In meetings with District 22 legislators and state and federal officials, Van Diepen has proposed a state treatment facility where addicts can get clean and learn how to contribute to society in a six-month program.
They are not getting the adequate treatment they need either while in prison or out on probation, he said.
There should also be enforcement of the tougher penalties on methamphetamine dealers, he said.
While they can be sentenced up to 10 years, most get five years and are out on parole in as few as 14 months, Van Diepen said.
Opioid abuse and addiction is a problem nationwide and in South Dakota, where he said they are most commonly used by people 21 and younger.
Although marijuana is now legal in Colorado, much of it goes out the back door on the black market because more money can be made in other states, he said.
“There’s troopers out in western South Dakota that are taking upwards of 100 to 150 pounds of marijuana at least once or twice a week that they’re seizing on the interstate,” Van Diepen said.
Between 2013 and 2016, he said the fatality crash rate in Colorado tied to impaired drivers under the influence of marijuana rose 145 percent, from 47 crashes to 115, he said.
Efforts to legalize marijuana in South Dakota have so far been unsuccessful.
“Why do we want fatal crashes to go up even 10 percent in South Dakota?” he said. “That just shocks me that we want to endorse marijuana in South Dakota. Knowing that it’s going to have the effect of killing even one person. There’s no reason that we want to allow that.”
Van Diepen said heroin is being sold in the state. Methamphetamine use, while in itself is not a violent drug crime, can lead to violence when addicts must find ways to buy it day after day.
“People are getting hurt, thefts and everything else, so people can feed their methamphetamine fix,” he said.
“There are a lot of things that will shock you about drugs in our society,” Van Diepen said. “It’s not getting any better, it’s just going to get worse.”
PHOTO BY ROGER LARSEN/PLAINSMAN
Huron Police Chief Kevin Van Diepen speaks at Beadle County Republican Women luncheon.