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

Mary Annette Pember

“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.


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