Generation killer

"Generation killer" Continued...

Issue: "Minority report," Aug. 11, 2007

Meth violence has struck much of rural America, but the reservations are where it has hit hardest. A recent FBI study estimates that 40 percent to 50 percent of violent crimes in Indian Country are meth-related-a troubling conclusion considering that the rate of violent crimes is already two and one half times that of the general population. A BIA study concluded that meth has caused significant increases in domestic violence, assaults, burglaries, sexual crimes, and child abuse. An increase in teen suicide and suicide attempts attests to the desperation and hopelessness now pervasive in Indian Country.

Psychological and genetic differences in Native Americans also make them more prone to addiction, Moore said. While usage rates on meth are falling among the general public, the number of people addicted in Indian Country continues to rise. Some reservations across the United States estimate usage rates as high as 30 percent, and even tribal leaders have not been immune to meth addiction.

Extreme poverty and lack of jobs only worsen the meth problem on reservations. It's not uncommon for families to roam between reservations and nearby cities, living with different relatives for indefinite periods of time.

Moore says "the short-lived boon of gaming" has done little to build long-term benefits. In addition, more than 80 percent of the money earned or received in the form of per capita checks-the share of the tribe's income paid to reservation residents-is spent elsewhere. For the Sioux most of it is spent in Rapid City, a four-hour drive from Rosebud.

Rapid City resident LouAnn Thudium is fully aware of meth's addictive powers: She used the drug every day for eight years after discovering the temporary relief it provided for her back pain and balm for the emotional grief she experienced after losing her mother, two brothers, and her grandmother.

Thudium, 47 and half Native American, was unable to stop using meth on her own: "Once you start using, it's really hard to stop." She eventually received a prison sentence of 10 years-five for using the drug and five for not turning herself in. "I couldn't face the thought of going to prison without [meth]," she said.

But unlike many other meth users-especially those on the reservations where treatment centers are few or nonexistent and consequences are minimal-Thudium is a success story. After several years in prison, she turned a corner. She says she found God in prison, and since then numerous faith-based ministries have guided her growth and helped her get back on her feet through Bible studies, budget classes, job training, and continual encouragement. After two and a half years behind bars, she finally reached a point where she wasn't craving the drug every day: "I think God put me there for a reason because I couldn't stop by myself, and I don't think a 30-day treatment program would have helped."

Thudium is now on parole, is drug-free, and holds a steady job at a women's shelter. But despite a gentle smile and growing sense of confidence, Thudium avoids those who are on meth (she can easily spot them by subtle nuances such as a slight tick or teeth grinding). As a case worker, she says she loves helping the people who are willing to work hard.

The BIA has asked for an additional $16 million in its 2008 budget to help combat the looming problem of meth, and a surge of law enforcement is likely to be at the forefront of budget allocations. Some reservations-such as the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico-are the size of smaller states, and law enforcement on tribal land across the United States is 42 percent below the minimum need to equal similar communities outside the reservations. Currently, 2,555 officers patrol tribal territories compared to the 4,409 needed to efficiently enforce law and order.

Meth's stronghold on Indian Country has made this deficiency even more apparent, and Moore says the jurisdictional divide in states like South Dakota means tribal land is considered a federal matter. Too often those with local solutions feel they need not apply.

Few meth treatment centers exist in Indian Country, and meth treatment differs significantly from that for other forms of addiction. It takes much longer to conquer with treatment-an average of two years-and is subsequently more costly. An insufficient number of detention centers is also a problem. Those who are convicted of drug-related crimes are often released due to lack of jail space.

The local rehab center on Rosebud only deals with alcohol and other drug addictions, but tribal leaders plan to pursue a congressionally mandated award to help fund a methamphetamine wing on the facility in 2008.


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