Officers of the Rosebud Adult Corrections Facility pose for a photo during National Corrections Officers week in May 2016.

Mary Annette Pember

Officers of the Rosebud Adult Corrections Facility pose for a photo during National Corrections Officers week in May 2016.

Meth Tsunami Overwhelms Rosebud Rez

“At least 60 percent of the population on the Rosebud reservation uses meth,” says Calvin “Hawkeye” Waln Jr., captain of the Rosebud Police Department.

This is not the first time meth has come to Rosebud. According to Waln, people began using it before 2005. “It comes in waves,” he says, but the current wave is especially deadly. This meth is strong, cheap and readily available from dealers who access the drug from an elaborate web of organized crime, says Waln, adding that homemade meth labs are becoming a thing of the past.

A National Congress of the American Indian study says Native peoples have the highest rate of meth use of any ethnicity in the U.S. “It almost seems like meth use has become normalized in our community,” Waln notes.

In a recent Drug Enforcement Administration report, all drug cases in Indian country overall have increased seven times from 2009-2014. On some reservations, crime rates are five times greater than the national average, according to Reuters.

NCAI said, 40 percent of crime in Indian country is directly related to meth. There are an average of seven reports of breaking and entering for the purpose of burglary per week on the Rosebud Reservation. “People do this to find a way to buy meth,” says Waln, who notes that 2014, the Rosebud Correctional facility housed 11,880 inmates. In 2015, it housed 45,237 inmates. In 2015, 30 percent of those inmates were incarcerated for meth-related crimes.

The percentage of meth-related crimes could actually be much higher, cautions Melissa Eagle Bear, Facilities Administrator for the Rosebud Corrections Facility, who says that although the most common offense for men incarcerated at the jail is domestic violence. Later as the men go through withdrawal, it’s clear they have also been addicted to meth.

NCAI data shows the rates of domestic violence and assault has increased across Indian country and is directly tied to use of meth. “Meth is a toxin that completely throws you out of whack,” Waln explains. “People become emotional wrecks. They are like ticking time bombs; people have become more dangerous because you never know what will set them off. They resist arrest; they assault officers.”

Eagle Bear and her staff of 36 corrections officers have become de facto experts on the effects of meth on the human body and the unpredictable detox process. “There is no training available from the Indian Police Academy in how to deal with people withdrawing from meth,” she says. “We’ve had to gain our expertise on the ground.”

Although less physically dangerous than withdrawal from opiates or alcohol, meth withdrawal can be extremely unpredictable and can occur several days or weeks after ingesting that last fix. Physical reactions of detoxing from large amounts and long-term meth use are horrific, and dangerous both for the user and those around him or her.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), chronic users exhibit psychotic behavior including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions. Even people who may normally be very calm can suddenly become violent for no apparent reason. The most dangerous time, according to CESAR is when users are “tweaking.” This usually occurs after the user has not slept for several days while binging on meth. Suddenly the user finds that the drug stops working, regardless of the amount ingested. These are times when the user, who may appear outwardly normal, gets involved in simple disputes that can quickly escalate into crimes like kidnapping, violent domestic disputes and car wrecks.

Eagle Bear and her crew have found that meth users are capable of super-human strength and require several officers to subdue them. “Many of our officers have been violently assaulted, kicked, hit on the head. Fortunately there has been no loss of life but some have had to take medical leaves as a result of dealing with meth users.”  

The officers have become adept at “cell extraction,” the process of removing a violent inmate from a jail cell. Although they have access to riot gear, officers often have little time to prepare for the sudden violent outbursts associated with meth.

Dealing with the fallout from meth use and addiction has created a new set of challenges for corrections.

For instance, the onset of meth withdrawal can begin later than detox from other drugs and has caught jail and law enforcement officials by surprise. Eagle Bear describes an incident in which an inmate was released from jail on a non-meth related charge and given a date to appear in court later. “He is known in the community to be a quiet, soft spoken man.”

At first he appeared to be waiting quietly in the reception area for a ride. “Out of nowhere he began arguing and shouting at people,” she recalls. “When we tried to talk with him, he attacked officers and ended up taking a federal charge of assaulting an officer.”

This is a typical meth-related scenario, she says. “Meth appears to have a longer half life in the body, sometimes users become aggressive even weeks after their last fix.”

As withdrawal begins, users may feel nauseated and faint. They may feel as though they can’t breath. They may hallucinate and grow paranoid and can quickly become violent.

Some violent inmates are put in immobilization chairs in their cells until they calm down. “We observe strict BIA policing practices and monitor them every 15 minutes. They can spend no more than two hours in the immobilization chairs. It does seem to help them calm down,” she says.

“We have Indian Health Service check on them if they appear sick but often there’s not much they can do. If they are sick and violent, IHS won’t take them at the hospital, so we have to immobilize them and transport to Rapid City.”

After the acute detox phase, users often become suicidal and must be monitored closely.

“Overall, the average stay for inmates is four months; the average length of acute meth detox is three months. The timing works out well for our addicted clients. [That means] we represent the main detox option for incarcerated people,” Eagle Bear notes.

Rehab and Relapses

Although the tribe opened the new, 67,500-square-foot, $25-million adult jail in 2013, there is little funding for inmate health care or drug treatment needs, nor is there funding for essential training for officers, who need more skills in dealing with drug-related problems such as meth addiction or HIV positive inmates. Since meth users often inject the drug, they greatly increase the possibility of contracting HIV.

The Rosebud Meth Initiative Program coordinates treatment with Rosebud’s Alcohol and Treatment Center for inmates. Counselors from the tribe’s Alcohol and Drug Treatment facility conduct recovery classes and treatment with inmates at the jail.

In 2010, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST) opened the first meth specific treatment facility in Indian country as part of a five-year pilot project. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe Methamphetamine Rehabilitation and Recovery Program grant cycle with Indian Health Service has ended but the program continues operating with a skeleton crew, according to its director, Ed Purcell.

The meth treatment program incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy with a behavioral therapy approach that includes individual therapy and counseling, as well as group counseling, family education, the 12-step philosophy and drug testing. It also includes a system of rewards and incentives for maintaining abstinence. “The original treatment protocol compartmentalized spirituality. We include the spiritual element throughout the treatment process,” Purcell says.

Most clients are court-ordered to participate in treatment. The initial phase, three months, often takes place in jail. They are usually court-ordered to continue the entire 48-week treatment program, regardless of when they are released from jail. They can transfer to the tribe’s meth treatment facility when they are free.

Regarding success rates, Purcell says, “All treatment is 100 percent successful even if the client does not have a favorable outcome. The intervention changes how they view themselves in relationship with drugs. One client told me I’d taken all the fun out of using — he kept hearing my voice in his head and it spoiled his high.”

Nationally, long-term cure rates for methamphetamine use may be less than 10 percent, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Overall, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the chronic nature of addiction means relapse for all drug addicts is likely.

According to research, meth has a higher rate of relapse than users of other drugs. Even after months of treatment, users may repeat desperate, dangerous, drug-seeking behavior.

As in other communities, meth users here have been known to traffic their own children for sex in exchange for money. Grandmothers here carefully ration out formula and diapers to mothers for fear that the young women may sell their babies supplies to buy a piece of “shard.”

Desperate for the quickest and best high, addicts resort to booty bumps and tampons. They soak toilet paper or tampons in a meth solution and insert them into the rectum or vagina, according to Walking Eagle.

This is one of the immobilization chairs that is used at the Rosebud Adult Correctional Facility for inmates who are violent and at risk of injuring themselves and others. Officers check on the inmates every 15 minutes while in the chair. Inmates cannot spend longer than two hours in the chair. (Mary Annette Pember)

Mary Annette Pember

This is one of the immobilization chairs that is used at the Rosebud Adult Correctional Facility for inmates who are violent and at risk of injuring themselves and others. Officers check on the inmates every 15 minutes while in the chair. Inmates cannot spend longer than two hours in the chair.

No Magic Cures

Walking Eagle organizes public awareness training and events about the dangers of meth and coordinates treatment for inmates incarcerated at the Rosebud jail. She follows up with offenders, encouraging them to take advantage of treatment and addiction aftercare at the tribe’s treatment program. She also helped organize the Mothers Against Meth, a support group for people dealing with the impact of meth.

Driving her beat-up car, fondly nicknamed Bastard, she travels throughout the reservation offering encouragement, support and information about available services for addicts and their families. The one thing she can’t do, however, is magically cure an addict.

She recalls the day a grandmother came into her office crying and upset about a family member who was using meth and endangering her children. “I carefully explained the services that were available to her and steps she could take to legally protect the children and get the mother into treatment,” Walking Eagle says.

At this the grandmother got angry and said, “You’re not doing your job; you’re supposed to help her! I’m going to report you to the tribal council!”

“Unfortunately, I can’t just take an addict away and fix the problem,” Walking Eagle says. “People have to really want to participate in the whole process. That process also includes stopping patterns of enabling the addict.”

Get It Off the Streets

“Right now, the meth situation is out of control,” Police Captain Waln says. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough resources to put everyone in treatment who needs it.”

He is also trying to push back the wave. “We are pushing hard now to take meth off the streets. In the past we’ve put meth underground temporarily only to have it come back again. This time we are going forward with coordinated efforts.”

“We don’t get a lot of help from the feds. They prefer to focus on conspiracy, but we live here. Our children live here. We are going to take meth off the streets in every way we can, through traffic stops and knock-and-talks.”

During knock-and-talks, officers go to the homes of people who have been reported to be using and/or selling and let them know that they will soon be a target of police attention, in the form of search or arrest warrants.

Rosebud police have been conducting about 120 vehicle stops per week. “We are pulling meth off the streets every night during these stops,” Waln reports.

“I’m not going to publicly disclose our new law enforcement tactics but we are going to take users and dealers by surprise. Our only choice now is to put meth firmly underground.”

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Meth Tsunami Overwhelms Rosebud Rez

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