Earlier this month, I placed my hand on my dad’s worn Bible and made a promise to South Dakota to govern in a way that respects and benefits every person in our state. I promised to serve in a way that improved things for the next generation. My dream? To grow our state into a place where our kids can thrive. We’re going to produce a stronger tomorrow for the next generation.
But my parents taught me to do more than dream, they taught me to do. So 73 hours after I took that Oath of Office, I stood in front of the Legislature and outlined my plan to create a stronger South Dakota for the next generation. One of those plans is to aggressively battle the meth epidemic.
As I’ve talked with first responders about our meth problem, they’ve told me of situations where they walked into homes of meth users and found kids starving in their bedrooms, their parents drugged out of their minds. Stories like this are frequent. In Iowa, a 4-month-old baby was killed just over a month ago after his meth-addict dad forgot him in a swing. He died of malnutrition and infection. The police found his little body covered in maggots and sores – his parents too strung out on meth to remember his existence.
This is what our law enforcement has to deal with every day. Meth is filling our jails and prisons, clogging our court systems, and stretching our drug treatment capacity. But meth is rarely made in South Dakota anymore. The vast majority of this meth is coming from Mexico. Our meth epidemic is the price we are paying for our nation’s failure to adequately secure our southern border.
Meth destroys people, but it does much more. It destroys families. It hurts our kids, and we see that in our schools, in our foster families, and in our health care providers. This breaks my heart. Not because I’m the governor. Because I’m a mom.
In the coming months and years, we’ll work to expand prevention and treatment programs. We need to do more to educate our young people about the effects of meth and give them strategies to avoid it. We’ll also help every South Dakotan learn to identify the early signs of meth use to increase early referrals to treatment. I want to reach meth users before they enter the criminal justice system and commit other crimes. Our objective isn’t to imprison people – that hurts families too. We need additional mental health services. We must help people beat their meth addiction and return to their jobs and families.
Furthermore, we’re going to get more aggressive in enforcing our laws against meth. We need to stop the traffic of meth into our state and crack down on those who deal drugs.
And while we crack down on enforcement, we must pave avenues for rehabilitation. Earlier this year, I visited Teen Challenge in Brookings – an incredible program that helps people struggling with life-controlling substance abuse and equips them to become productive members of their community. We need more options like this for people trapped in addiction, recognizing that second chances are available to people willing to walk the road to recovery.
I recognize this is a big problem to tackle, but I’m committed to confronting it, and I’m confident I have the plan to make an impact. We must continue having these conversations and addressing these problems to create a stronger South Dakota for the next generation.