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South Dakota - known as "The Mount Rushmore State" (as its home to the renowned landmarks Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument)- is also known for its booming agriculture, routinely ranking among the top 10 states for the production of hay, sunflowers, rye, honey, soybeans, corn, wheat and cattle. It's a large state by land mass with a surprisingly small number of residents, which means that most of it is extremely rural, with miles and miles of open prairies flowing, untainted by people, into the sprawling Black Hills National Forest. It's the fifth least populous and the fifth least densely populated of all 50 states. Studies show that rural U.S. communities are disproportionately impacted by drug overdose deaths, so perhaps it's this very remoteness that has contributed to South Dakota's huge spike in illicit drug use across its plains.
South Dakota boasts a relatively comfortable average annual income of $73,768, and thus one might be tempted to think that it had been spared the wave of drug addiction affecting poorer states, but nothing could be further from the truth. In 2009-2010, South Dakota was one of the top ten states for rates of illicit drug dependence among persons age 12-17. Despite the state being fairly well-off in terms of resources, substance abuse in South Dakota gives major cause for concern.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse affects the entire country, and no state in the US has been spared, including rural South Dakota. In 2016 the United States had over 60,000 overdoses, (a rate of 175 people dying per day,) and when we examine the numbers, we see that overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents or guns. And, although poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, correlation is not causation. This doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted; in fact sometimes wealthy people are thrown into poverty directly because of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. And, if someone has been fired from an old job, it can become a great deal harder to get a new one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction has blown across South Dakota like an unstoppable blizzard, wreaking havoc on communities and ripping apart whole families. In South Dakota, half of all drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018—a total of 28 fatalities (and a rate of 3.5!) And, roughly 6.07% of South Dakota residents reported past-month illicit drug use. Opioid addiction is particularly menacing because, due to the highly addictive nature of the drugs, it can sneak up on even the most careful of people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Just as in the rest of the country, the root of the opioid problem in South Dakota stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive pills when, in many cases, lesser drugs like Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. Opioids may seem safe because a doctor prescribes them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a path to full-on dependency. In 2018, South Dakota providers wrote 42.6 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people! And another study found that 4% of South Dakota youth (ages 12-17) reported using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
Sadly many South Dakota residents have discovered that abusing prescription painkillers can lead to using even more dangerous substances. Federal and state regulations now try to control and limit the prescribing of opioids, (a valiant effort) but it has had the unintended effect of causing the use of street drugs like heroin (which gives a similar high and is even cheaper to obtain on the street) to skyrocket. And, the danger to substance abusers in South Dakota doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug addicts often then turn to incredibly dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, (which is far stronger than heroin) and the result is usually a body bag. Initially, most users don't intentionally seek out fentanyl, but unfortunately once a person has been exposed to a higher toxicity of a drug, the brain chemistry is altered further, and users will seek out the most potent form. At the height of addiction, users are wholly unable to calculate the risk and are willing to go to any length to obtain the high. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
Although the drug and alcohol abuse situation looks bleak by the numbers, the good news for South Dakota residents struggling with addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are more connected now than we have ever been, and The Mount Rushmore State has an abundance of resources to fit every need, whether you just want counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or are seeking full-on detox services. The mighty South Dakotan spirit—honed by a long hard winter, and capable of building the incredible Mount Rushmore (which required carving 90% of the rock with dynamite and moving more than 450,000 tons of rock)—will prevail as it always has. If you are struggling with an addiction, all you need to do is tap into that spirit and know that you too, will prevail. The important part is acknowledging the forces holding you back so you can begin the journey towards breaking free of them. This is the first step toward the rest of your life.
South Dakota State Facts
South Dakota Population: 752,082
Law Enforcement Officers in South Dakota: 1,912
South Dakota Prison Population: 4,100
South Dakota Probation Population: 4,462
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 46
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in South Dakota
Cocaine: 0.5 kgs.
Heroin: 0.0 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 1.8 kgs.
Marijuana: 0.6 kgs.
Ecstasy: 3 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 11 (DEA, state, and local)
South Dakota Drug Situation: The use of methamphetamine continues to affect the rural areas, as well as the urban areas, throughout the state of South Dakota. This increased use and demand for methamphetamine has continued over the past year. Methamphetamine has come to the attention of the public through an increasingly aware media, informed public officials from the local to national level, and concerned citizens. Public efforts are underway by law enforcement, politicians, social service agencies and the media to further educate the public as to the dangers of methamphetamine use and abuse. In addition, marijuana is readily available in all areas of South Dakota. It continues as the most abused of the illegal controlled substances. Also, the controversial issue of "hemp" remains a high profile topic. Interstate 90, which runs east to west through South Dakota, is increasingly being used for the transportation of drugs and currency by trafficking organizations.
Cocaine in South Dakota: Cocaine HCl is readily available throughout all parts of South Dakota.While the availability of crack cocaine is increasing in eastern South Dakota, abuse is still limited in western sections of the state. The cocaine is obtained from Mexican sources in Sioux City, Iowa; Kansas City, Missouri; and California. In addition some distributors in Rapid City, South Dakota obtain cocaine from sources in the Denver area.
Heroin in South Dakota: Heroin is typically available only in personal use quantities in South Dakota.Methamphetamine in South Dakota: The availability of Mexican methamphetamine continues to increase throughout South Dakota. Methamphetamine in eastern South Dakota is obtained from sources in Sioux City, Iowa, or from sources in western states such as Texas, Arizona, and California. Methamphetamine is distributed locally by either long-time Caucasian residents or Hispanic males who have recently moved to South Dakota. Mexican methamphetamine in western South Dakota is primarily shipped directly from cities such as Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and San Diego using FedEx or UPS. Small toxic labs have steadily increased over the last few years. Local lab operators are obtaining chemicals at local hardware stores, truck stops, and department stores. Production capabilities of these small labs are usually less than one ounce. The stealing of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer from farm supply stores and farmers has also emerged as a serious problem in this agricultural state.
Predatory Drugs in South Dakota: MDMA (Ecstasy) in eastern South Dakota is limited but appears to be increasing. MDMA is more readily available in western portions of South Dakota; however, the number of rave parties remains stable. Law enforcement in South Dakota reports limited availability of LSD.
Marijuana in South Dakota: Marijuana is readily available throughout South Dakota. Multi-hundred pound quantities are transported into the state from the southwest border of the United States. Smaller quantities are also shipped via express mail services or purchased from Hispanic males in the Sioux City area and driven back to Sioux Falls. Higher purity marijuana is produced in indoor grow operations in the Sioux Falls area, which typically contain less than 100 plants. Larger indoor operations have been found in the Rapid City area in western South Dakota, ranging from a few plants to several hundred. During the past few years, members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe have attempted to plant fields of “hemp” on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Intelligence reports indicate that high purity “BC Bud” marijuana may now be available in South Dakota.
Other Drugs in South Dakota: OxyContin is a growing problem throughout South Dakota, and has been found at methamphetamine laboratory sites. According to the South Dakota Department of Health, hydrocodone products, codeine, and Darvocet-N are the most popular abused pharmaceutical substances in the state. They are obtained by forged prescriptions and by phony call-ins.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There has been one MET deployment in the State of South Dakota since the inception of the program, in Yankton Sioux.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of South Dakota.
DEA Special Topics: Interstate 90 runs east to west through the state of South Dakota and has become a more significant transportation route for drug trafficking organizations. During FY2003, Operation Pipeline highway interdictions in the state of South Dakota led to seizures including approximately 30 kilograms of cocaine, 700 pounds of marijuana, one-half pound of methamphetamine, and over $850,000 U.S. currency.