The Revolving Door: Meth Addiction

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Every year, many meth users leave incarceration only to circle back.  Some spend a few months locked up, but it takes their body much longer to recover from the drug.  That means when people get out of jail their addiction is often stronger than they are.  So, how can South Dakota stop this revolving door?

If you met Brent Lambley seventeen years ago, you probably wouldn’t recognize him.

“My fingertips had kind of ballooned out and cracked open and I could taste the meth coming out of my fingertips,” said Lambley.

Looking back, he doesn’t recognize himself.

“As I look back there are weeks, possibly even months where I’m missing memory,” said Lambley. ”I woke up with the realization that if I don’t do something, I am going to die and I was pretty okay with that.”

He was 6’4” and only 160 pounds. He lost custody of his four daughters to foster care. However, the courts gave Lambley an opportunity to go to treatment and save his life.

“Then when we look at the rehabilitative efforts, they just aren’t there,” said Lincoln County State’s Attorney Tom Wollman.

According to state officials, not all addicts get the alternative option of treatment. Many meth offenders in the Sioux Empire are sent to jail for a short period of time.

“The lack of treatment that we have here that’s supported, it’s really, it’s a big problem because again we become somewhat of this revolving door,” said Wollman.

While the state says its short jail sentences are saving money, not all agree. Lincoln County for example, doesn’t have a jail, so it spends a million dollars a year housing its prisoners in other counties. Wollman would like to see Governor Dennis Daugaard invest in treatment.

“He had saved 30 million dollars on his department of corrections budget,” said Wollman. “If that’s the case and we haven’t even seen a million dollars of that on meaningful treatment programs, we’ve really missed the mark.”

For selected high risk offenders, the justice system provides a rehabilitative alternative: drug court.

“Every single person that walks into drug court has been through the hammers of hell,” said Minnehaha County Drug Court Judge Pat Riepel.

Riepel says they take a holistic approach. She says many of the people that walk into drug court are survivors of abuse. Since 2011, 164 people have been selected for the drug court program. 62 of those have graduated.

“Seeing the writing on the wall that we have to do something different than just lock up,” said Riepel.

They call about 45 of these people success stories. They’ve gone five years without being rearrested for a felony. Some of the cases on court official’s desks make their way right back.

“It’s not unusual for someone to get arrested on meth or get released on bond and pick up two or three new meth charges in a short period of time,” said Riepel.

For Lambley, life after addiction now has new meaning. He earned his master’s degree and is a drug counselor at a treatment facility – where he helps those who have also walked in his shoes.

He’s grateful for the abundance of resources and counseling he and his family received decades ago instead of prison.

“Even with those services, I would still struggle,” said Lambley.

Not everyone gets a second chance.

“Meth will kill you,” said Riepel. “Meth doesn’t look at you as a person. It just rips you apart and drags you down.”

According to drug court officials, 60% of the people currently in the program are female. They say they’re seeing mainly people age 22 through 30. In a statement issued last week, South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard says the Department of Social Services has funded more than 245 educational presentations to thousands of people in communities and schools discouraging meth use.

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