S.D. Officials Hold Conference on Opioid Epidemic Solutions
Oct. 19—South Dakota is joining the conversation about possible solutions to what officials are calling a national opioid epidemic.
"In South Dakota, 147 people have died of drug overdose from 2012 to 2016," said Randolph Seiler, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota. "And we have not even seen the worst of the problem yet."
Seiler, along with local law enforcement, medical professionals, state prosecutors and advocacy workers, took part in an annual conference sponsored by Avera Health and the U.S. Attorney's Office of South Dakota on Wednesday at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. This year's focus was how the state can act proactively to the opioid crisis.
The drug problem in South Dakota continues to escalate, proven by 2016's all-time high of 2,687 methamphetamine arrests. And in the past few years the presence of prescription opioids, fentanyl and heroin are trickling into South Dakota, which is a cause for concern, according to law enforcement officials.
"We are seeing more heroin and prescription drugs present than we ever did in years before," said Minnehaha County State's Attorney Aaron McGowan. "It is going to be a trend we have to stop soon."
Fentanyl pills are making their way into the state by mail and are being distributed, according to Brian Zeeb, assistant director of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation. In 2016, the South Dakota Board of Pharmacy reported more than 600,000 prescriptions for opioids in South Dakota.
In an effort to encourage people to properly dispose of prescription medications, including prescribed opioids, South Dakota's Division of Criminal Investigation is in the process of installing a drop-off medication box in at least one retail pharmacy in every county in the state. On Oct. 28, South Dakota will participate in the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, an initiative to limit the presence of unused opioids.
McGowan explained drug and DUI courts have been effective in helping people who struggle with addiction to stay both sober and out of the prison. But, McGowan said, the state's attorney office is consistently working on felony cases related to drug charges.
"It is all hands on deck for our office," McGowan said.
Now, it is not uncommon for police to find prescription bottles for opioids while making drug arrests, according to McGowan.
Opioid addiction and opioid overdose is a problem that state officials will continue to raise awareness for and seek solutions to, Seiler said.
"Now is the time to step up and get with our neighbors, to talk to our children and do something about it," Seiler said. "This is a first step to address this issue."
The one-day conference included several panels with medical experts and state officials and featured keynote speaker Stacey Hail, associate professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Hail concluded by urging first responders and law enforcement to continue the conversation and education on the danger of opioid addiction.