"Life or Meth: Battle for Pine Ridge" (Part 1 of 3)

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Methamphetamine use is a problem all across South Dakota--but on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation-- it is a crisis.
Some believe it threatens the future of the tribe.

So just how bad is it?
Tonight we talk to the people in the middle of the fight: in part 1 of our special report "Life or Meth: Battle for Pine Ridge".

Methamphetamine has been silently but rapidly invading the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, with no signs of letting up. And while it's impossible to know for sure how many residents are using, just listen to these numbers, guesses, from those on the battlefield.

Lt. Melinda Reddest, OST Department of Corrections says, "I would probably say maybe 40%, 50%."

Lt. Leonard Her Many Horses, OST Dept of Public Safety says, "Within the past 5 years I'd say it's probably tripled."

Debra Mousseau, OST Evidence Technician says, "40 percent yeah and it will increase, it has increased."

We talked to inmates at the Oglala Lakota Adult Offender Correctional Facility. For their protection we agreed to cover their faces and change their names.

Laura, an admitted meth user says, "Down here it's more or less a lifestyle. It's not something they just randomly do. It's people wake up and that's all they do when they wake up. It's not how am I gonna feed my kids? What are we gonna do for lunch or anything. It's how am I gonna get high."

Oglala Lakota County is known for being the most impoverished county in America. With few jobs available: price is a factor.

Jerica Dreamer, a former Meth user says, "Everyone sells these itty bitty bags of meth for $20, but if you really wanted to, like when I used to be on it, I would go and get meth for $5 if I wanted to."

Inexpensive, and highly addictive. This inmate knows firsthand.

Becky, an admitted meth addict says, "The first hit. The first hit."

Some people smoke it, some snort it, and others like the woman we're calling Becky are what's known as darters, using syringes.

Becky, an admitted meth addict says, "Yeah, 60 cc's every hour just to keep my high, just to keep me up and I'd be up for days. The longest I was up for 18 days."

Henry, a former meth user says, "It got so bad that I start hearing stuff in my own head, I start looking left, right, trying to look out the window. I was thinking that someone was after me."

Tribal Police say they're tremendously understaffed...with only approximately 30 officers right now-- that's roughly 20 percent of what they say they need...or 80 percent short.
And with meth running rampant, other crimes follow.

Lt. Leonard Her Many Horses, OST Dept. of Public Safety says, "With the level of violence that's coming about, we got people getting their house windows , their car windows broken out, getting assaulted, family members getting murdered. "

US Attorney for South Dakota, Randy Seiler says, "From 2015 to 2016 the homicide rate basically doubled and per capita Pine Ridge in 2016 had the 3rd highest homicide rate in the nation. That's incredibly troubling and concerning."

Third highest in the nation: US Attorney for South Dakota Randy Seiler, says his office believes Meth was a factor in about half of those, and says their office has been involved in prosecuting those responsible.
Still, meth remains popular here.

Lt. Leonard Her Many Horses says, "We're seeing it anywhere from teenagers up to 50, 60 year olds. It has no age, age group I guess. Everybody's using it."

A single mother known as 'Mama Julz' is standing up against meth, raising awareness about its dangers and using her mobile home with plywood floors and broken windowns as a safe house for kids.

Julie Richards, known as 'Mama Julz', says, "Every baby born addicted to meth is a part of a generation that the Oglala Sioux Nation loses. If it keeps on going how it is, in 20 years we won't have an Oglala Lakota Nation."

Ominous words...
The highest estimate we heard, while on Pine Ridge, for meth users on the reservation was 90 percent, the lowest 10 percent: with most guessing somewhere in between.
We'll look at "Why" meth has become such a problem there, in part 2 of our special report: "Life or Meth: Battle for Pine Ridge."