Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials
Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, June 22
War on drugs just got tougher
It was just 14 months ago when Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom told a state oversight council that meth use had “gone off the charts” and was “out of control” in parts of South Dakota.
Since then, the state has appropriated several hundred thousand dollars to bolster treatment opportunities, start a marketing campaign to warn youth and others of the dangers of meth, and to incentivize those on probation and parole to stop using a drug that is almost instantly addicting.
It appears, however, that these efforts have been akin to putting a finger in a dyke that is about to crumble. Meth use has skyrocketed in the past year and is often a key ingredient in violent crimes.
Now, however, meth and the madness and mayhem it creates has a rival and experts say its potency makes it far more dangerous. It’s called fentanyl analog and should alarm everyone who is concerned about public health and public safety.
On Tuesday, the Lawrence County State’s Attorney’s Office announced that nine people were indicted on 50 felony drug charges. The primary drug cited was fentanyl analog. The investigation that led to the indictments came after two Spearfish residents, ages 23 and 38, died in January after using the synthetic opioid that the National Institute on Drug Abuse says is 50 to 100 more times potent than morphine, making it extraordinarily lethal.
The Lawrence County indictments come just one week after a 19-year-old Chamberlain man was arrested for possessing 20,000 fentanyl pills worth $500,000.
Until recently, fentanyl has been seen as primarily a big-city problem in a few states. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 80 percent of fentanyl seizures occurred in 10 eastern states.
Since then, however, this killer drug has swept through the nation and now has surfaced in central and western South Dakota where many of us feel insulated from drug epidemics and their fatal consequences. The drug, however, has the potential to sweep through a state like a plague. In New Hampshire, for example, the number of fentanyl-related deaths climbed from 145 to 283 from 2014 to 2015, according to the National Drug Early Warning System. The state’s population is only around 1.3 million people.
In Lawrence County, 37-year-old Eric Reeder now faces 20 felony charges, including two counts of first-degree manslaughter. Spearfish police said the suspect told them he ordered the fentanyl on the darknet and they were delivered to him. Also facing a first-degree manslaughter charge is 32-year-old Ashley Kristina Kuntz.
The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, the Lawrence County State’s Attorney’s Office and Spearfish police are to be congratulated for pursuing this case and seeking convictions on manslaughter charges. It’s become all too clear that our ongoing war on drugs has become a lot tougher and the stakes are even higher.
It is a problem that requires an immediate and strong response from law enforcement. In the meantime, we all have a duty to report any suspected drug activity to law enforcement and to do everything possible to protect our families and loved ones from this devastating drug.
The Daily Republic, Mitchell, June 22
Local justice reform better for juveniles, county’s future
An innovative approach to improving relationships between youths and law enforcement is coming to Davison County.
In short, the program is meant to redirect youth away from the justice system while still being held accountable for their actions when dealing with criminal matters. Davison County State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins told the county commission this week he’s received approval from a First Circuit Court judge to move forward with the program.
According to a data compilation from SD Kids Count, there were an estimated 89,814 children and youths ages 10 to 17 in South Dakota in 2015. Of those 1,983 lived in Davison County. And while that age range is only about 10 percent of our county’s total population, it’s an influential time in a person’s life.
That’s why we’re hoping this new approach is successful. The main vision of South Dakota’s Detention Alternatives Initiative is to get youths who are already involved in the juvenile justice system to become healthy adults who can contribute to the community.
Miskimins on Tuesday explained the new program will be an “officer friendly” approach in which law enforcement officers “are not just citing kids into court, but they’re working on solutions for families, building relationships with children and their families.”
That seems to be a proactive way to make youth and children less afraid of officers and a way to lower recidivism, or the tendency for criminal to reoffend.
We hope this program helps the long-term fight against crime and drug abuse in Mitchell and the local region. If officers can give some leeway to juvenile offenders early in their life, perhaps those youths can learn from their mistakes and recognize the second chance they were given.
This is a strong approach to making Mitchell and Davison County a better place to live. And we think our law enforcement officers and other involved agencies will take positive steps in helping guide it in the right direction.
We’re excited to see the outcome and appreciate Miskimins for the initiative.
American News, Aberdeen, June 22
A user-friendly Aberdeen
If you aren’t from Aberdeen, good luck in understanding the “unwritten rules” of living in South Dakota’s third-largest city.
Not everyone in Aberdeen knows “how it’s always been done.” And some of our traditions are, frankly, a little unusual.
From uncontrolled intersections to long-gone-but-still-used landmarks like “The Starlite,” a newcomer to Aberdeen might feel lost, even after spending a fair amount of time here.
Think of it this way: There is likely not one student at Northern State University or Presentation College who will understand directions if they are told to “turn by the Lumber Company.”
That is not user-friendly information.
This is a critical issue as Aberdeen tries to welcome newcomers — new students, new workforce, new residents — to our city. These people, and their positive experiences, are important to keep this a growing, vibrant, relevant community.
Here’s an example. In our very newsroom, our summer intern asked “What’s with all the streets with no stop signs?” She is not from Timbuktu; in fact, she is from St. Paul, Minn., and is not unfamiliar with small, rural communities. This is exactly the kind of person Aberdeen leaders would like to recruit and retain and make into a true Aberdonian.
We can also guess she doesn’t want to be in a fender-bender in her neighborhood.
There have been some welcome steps. We are big fans of the blue-and-orange “wayfinding” signs getting visitors to key hotspots.
We also like the red (orange? camo?) carpet that is rolled out for hunters every year.
Can that warm welcome be extended beyond those special occasions?
Change is hard. Looking outside yourself is difficult. Understanding a need, however small, can be costly. We are not suggesting that stop signs be put at every intersection in the university neighborhood area. However, is there no signage that can help? Any handouts? How does someone driving in that area know to yield, for instance?
Aberdeen is in a fight for talent. It is already difficult to recruit talent to this city; why add any friction to that transaction?
Here’s something we can get behind: The Edge Underground, a new networking program being launched by the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce. The first event is Saturday, and aims to attract and retain individuals early in their careers.
The program is for those between the ages of 20 and 40, with a special emphasis on those who have lived in the Aberdeen area for five years or fewer.
That’s a good step.
We implore all of our leaders — city, county, business, education — to reach out to the young people of this city, to find out why they come, why they stay, and what frustrates them about living in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
We ask our friends and neighbors to look out for these newcomers, and make them feel at home.
And while you’re at it, tell them to slow down at intersections, and yield to the driver on the right.