The Fight Against Meth
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
On March 6, the United States lost a beloved First Lady.
As partner to the most powerful man in the world, First Lady Nancy Reagan chose to devote her time in the White House to a cause that is as relevant today as it was when she announced it 30 years ago. This, of course, is Mrs. Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.
Although Mrs. Reagan is no longer with us, we can still honor her by remembering the cause she fought so fiercely to promote. As she said in 1986, “[drug abuse] concerns us all, because of the way it tears at our lives, and because it is aimed at destroying the brightness and life of the sons and daughters of the United States.” These words still ring true today – but one drug in particular should concern us all.
Although available during the “Just Say No” campaign, methamphetamine didn’t gain popularity until the Reagans were out of office. As reported by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. has seen an increase almost every year since the early 1990s. The West Central and Southwest states have been particularly susceptible to the trend, and South Dakota is not immune. Reports show that South Dakota’s latest spike in meth use began in 2010 and continues to increase.
Understanding the severity of the problem, the South Dakota Department of Social Services has been working to develop a State Methamphetamine Awareness Campaign to discourage the use of this drug. When I entered office in 2011, there were 128 statewide meth arrests. By 2014, the number of arrests had grown to 271 arrests –nearly a 112 percent increase. About that time, the Public Safety Improvement Act was passed, which increased the number of drug treatment programs to help those who were already users. With expanded drug treatment programs, our next objective must be re-educating South Dakotans, and especially our younger population, about the dangers of meth before they decide to try it.
A major aspect of the campaign will be to demonstrate what meth does to a person’s physical and mental health.
Physically, a user will often experience open sores, yellow skin and rotten teeth in a collapsed jaw. Seizures, heart attack and liver failure are also common occurrences in someone who uses meth. Trying meth just once can lead to death.
Mentally, a meth user is susceptible to depression, suicidal thoughts and mental impairment. Meth users will often feel intense anger towards someone, and feel anxious about life. One of the most alarming facts about the drug is how it impacts the brain chemically. Meth is very addictive because the drug causes the brain to release high amounts of dopamine, leading to a rush. The rush can last up to 12 hours before the user experiences a crash. In order to reach that high level of euphoria again, the user must ingest more of the drug. Over time, the drug destroys the brain’s dopamine receptors. Without functioning dopamine receptors, a person’s ability to feel happy is impaired.
Meth has been robbing South Dakota for decades, and this campaign is merely another step in an ongoing battle to stop the malicious fight. Rolling out next school year, the campaign will educate students and parents alike to take Mrs. Reagan’s age-old advice, and just say no. Trying meth even once is not worth it. Losing one’s health, mental capabilities, relationships and risking one’s life is not worth it.
As Mrs. Reagan told Americans back in the 1980s, “Drugs steal away so much. They take and take, until finally every time a drug goes into a child, something else is forced out – like love and hope and trust and confidence. Drugs take away the dream from every child’s heart and replace it with a nightmare, and it’s time we in America stand up and replace those dreams.”