Beyond botched meth PSA, South Dakota has a problem

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

This week, South Dakota unveiled a new anti-drug campaign — featuring the slogans ”Meth. We’re On It” and ”Meth. I’m On It”— that left most of the internet confused as to whether it was a joke or an actual public service announcement.

Despite the widely-mocked rollout, the campaign underscores an important trend that has been bubbling under the radar: Meth has made a big comeback.

“Methamphetamine is a huge problem. It's a much larger problem than opioids in South Dakota and the Midwest,” Jeffrey Stamm, current executive director of the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), told Yahoo Finance. “So there's a reason for the ad campaign, and I certainly applaud their efforts. I think, obviously, the elephant in the room is whether that's an effective campaign or not.”

Asked about the ad campaign, Stamm sympathized, saying that “they're trying to raise public awareness. But I think the message is so nebulous that the power is lost on the citizens.”

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who is spearheading the ad campaign, believes that her effort is at the very least constructive.

“South Dakota’s anti-meth campaign launch is sparking conversations around the state and the country. The mission of the campaign is to raise awareness – to get people talking about how they can be part of the solution and not just the problem. It is working,” Noem said in a statement to Yahoo Finance. “Through this campaign, we hope to emphasize that this is an issue that affects all of us… This isn’t just someone else’s problem. It’s OUR problem.”

Pure, potent, and problematic

According to Stamm’s office, out of all illicit drugs on the streets — opioids, cocaine, and so on — methamphetamine poses the greatest threat because of how easily available it is and how potent it’s becoming. 

The volume of meth that’s being pumped through the southern border by Mexican cartels has increased exponentially, seizure stats from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection suggest, while the purity of the product has been drastically improved as well — in some cases, going up to 98%.

(Source: DEA)

“We are dealing with a very, very complex public health and national security crisis that we've never seen in this country, in regards to the drug trafficking and the types of drugs that are getting into the communities of America,” Derek Maltz, former head of the DEA’s Special Operations Division, told Yahoo Finance. “Methamphetamine is exploding all over America, not just South Dakota. Methamphetamine is being produced in the ton quantities in very large-scale laboratories by the Mexican cartels.” 

Scott Stewart, vice president of Tactical Analysis for Stratfor, noted that there are “many more people pushing it than ever before. So there's a lot more competition… And so they're really kind of flooding the market with meth. So it's strong and it's pure. And there's a lot of it.”

The cartels are also constantly seeking out new markets, as far away as Australia, he added. 

In America’s heartland, the most prevalent organizations that are engaged in drug trafficking are the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to Stamm, and a gram of meth can cost between $25 and $200.

A Sinaloa's state police officer works during the dismantle of one of the three clandestine laboratories producers of synthetic drug, mainly methamphetamine in El Dorado, Sinaloa state, Mexico on June 4, 2019. (Photo: RASHIDE FRIAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Drugs don't just find themselves here in South Dakota’

Meth also brings a level of violence involving production and trafficking, which is also a serious concern, Stamm added. Law enforcement officials across the U.S. believe that meth is the most associated with violent crime. From his experience, Stamm, who is also a former Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), noted a correlation between higher levels of drug trafficking and an increase in crime — from property crime to violent crime to even increasing gang activity.

“Drugs don't just find themselves here in South Dakota,” Stamm stressed. “They are trafficked here, especially by violent and predatory Mexican drug cartels that control meth trafficking across the USA today.” 

The statement from South Dakota Governor Noem added: “I am confident South Dakota can lead the country in this effort and demonstrate ways we can aggressively combat addiction and spark opportunities for recovery.”

(Source: DEA)

Drug seizures escalate

And despite the rocky ad campaign, the underlying message that the state was trying to get out was one of genuine concern.

“I think it is a little goofy. Don't get me wrong,” Maltz said about the ad. But “I praise the governor for the bold leadership… this particular initiative was based on a very serious, dire situation where all these young kids are getting addicted to meth. So the governor took a very aggressive, very innovative, bold way of raising awareness in not only the State of South Dakota, but the entire country.” 

Addressing the fact that the government spent nearly $450,000 on the campaign, he added: “It seems like a hell of a lot of money to charge a very small state. But if you're going to save one life, it's worth investing the money because right now, we have this overwhelming crisis that’s just not getting dealt with properly.” 

According to the South Dakota governor, the meth problem has grown tenfold: In 2011, 4,300 grams of meth were seized from 402 arrests. In 2018, they seized nearly 40,000 grams from more than 3,300 arrests.

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami

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