Governor, recovered addict urge students stay off meth 5-2-07

PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) - Gov. Mike Rounds urged students on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Tuesday to stay off methamphetamine, a drug he said is ruining lives and filling South Dakota's prisons.

“We don't want to put people in jail. What we want to do is give you help so you don't end up in jail,” Rounds said during a presentation to about 700 high school and middle school students.

Rounds visited a dozen schools around the state last year to discuss the dangers of meth, and he is visiting another four this week. Much of Tuesday's presentation was made by Jeremy Bucholz of Pierre, who works as a drug counselor after doing two prison terms because he was using, making and selling meth.

Bucholz told the students how he started using drugs in his early teens. Students listened particularly closely when he described how fertilizer, battery acid and nail polish were all normal ingredients used in the meth he made and sold.

“I traded my childhood for drug use,” Bucholz told the students. “I gave up everything, but you don't have to because now you know.”

High school senior Cheryl Cedar Face said the presentation was effective because Rounds and Bucholz met students face to face.

“It's different to have someone who's been there talking to you rather than someone just showing you pictures,” said Cedar Face, president of the student council. “I thought it was also cool Governor Rounds came down here on his tour... It's more personal.”

Rounds said about 41 percent of the South Dakota women locked up after convictions in the past nine months had meth problems, while 22 percent of the new male convicts had meth problems. About three-quarters of the state's most serious crimes are committed by meth users, he said.

“We've got to stop that,” he said.

The governor said he particularly wants to warn high school girls about the dangers of meth. He said 9 percent of the state's 10th graders have tried meth.

Girls are told meth can help them lose weight quickly, but it quickly addicts them and causes them to loose teeth and have scabby skin, he said. “Don't fall for the stories about meth.”

The campaign, called Face Facts: Meth Makes You Ugly, targets high school and junior high students.

A recent survey of Indian law enforcement agencies across the nation indicated that 74 percent of the agencies said meth posed the greatest threat among all drugs in their communities. The survey for the Bureau of Indian Affairs also found that more than 40 percent of the law enforcement agencies reported that large supplies of meth were available in their areas.

Bucholz, who grew up in Huron, said he might have avoided meth if anyone had told him how destructive the drug is. He said he was overweight before he started using meth, but was a good fighter. He said he wound up in prison the first time for pistol-whipping some customers who failed to pay him for meth. His second prison term was the result of a bar fight in which he stabbed three people.

He said he finally stopped using meth when he sought treatment after being held in solitary confinement in prison. He said he wanted to kick his addiction so he could help raise his daughter, who was born just before he entered prison for the second time.

Meth destroys the enamel on users' teeth, so their teeth turn brown or fall out, Bucholz said. It also makes people itch, so some scratch repeatedly until they have open sores, he said.

Meth also raises the body's temperature and heartbeat to dangerous levels, Bucholz said, adding that he is 31 years old and has a bad heart.

“You're basically melting your brain the minute you put meth in your body,” he said.

Men who use meth give it to women because those women will do anything to get more of the drug, Bucholz said. “Girls were toys. We did what we wanted to them.”

Bucholz said some of the people he sold meth to wound up dead, while others wound up in prison and some are in nursing homes because they had strokes and cannot take care of themselves.

“Every day I have to look in the mirror and see someone who killed people,” Bucholz said.

Students who are already addicted to meth should get help, Bucholz said. He said he and other drug counselors are required to provide young people with treatment without telling their parents.

Ted Rowland, high school principal in Pine Ridge, said the students were listening closely as Bucholz told about all the poisonous ingredients used to make meth.

Gabe Mesteth, a special education technician at the school, said alcohol seems to be a bigger problem than other drugs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Communities need more money to provide after-school activities that would help keep kids out of trouble, said Mesteth, who has been involved in government in his home village of Porcupine.

“One of the things we hear about all the time is alcohol and the effect it has on the families and the community as a whole,” Mesteth said.

Students leaving Tuesday's presentation said they learned a lot during Bucholz's talk.

“It scared me,” said Daniel Bull Bear, a junior.