An Aberdeen woman’s battle with addiction and sobriety was a powerful piece of testimony this morning.
Cari Arneson of Aberdeen, who is in the 5th Judicial Circuit’s Drug Court program, shared her story of methamphetamine addiction and self medication with U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D. Noem, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, had a public safety listening session at K.O. Lee Aberdeen Public Library. It was part a gubernatorial campaign stop.
Talk at the session focused on ways to address the growing drug addiction issue in South Dakota.
Noem said her goal as governor would be to tackle this issue starting with giving middle school counselors more tools and opportunities to identify students who are in crisis and prevent them from getting into situations where they’re exposed to addiction. Noem also said she wants to see increased mental health services.
She’d also like to see partnerships created with agencies that offer financial assistance. Those partnerships, she said, would yield services to people so they can make long-term changes in their lives. They could include parenting classes, learning to managing a household, help finding a job or interview preparation.
Arneson’s story kicked off the discussion as she talked about a childhood with physical and emotional abuse that led to her self-medicating, first with alcohol and medications.
By the time she was 16, Arneson said she was both married and pregnant. As a first-time teen mom, not only was she in school, but she was also working two jobs, she said.
She said she was eventually introduced to methamphetamine by a co-worker and friend.
“It really just started as a way to manage my day-to-day life,” Arneson said. “And it took me a while to realize that was no longer the case.”
By 19, Arneson said, she’d been to prison, and, by 20, her two daughters had been taken away. But, that wasn’t enough to change. Instead, she said, those matters fed her addiction.
“They always say every addict has a bottom, but those bottoms have trap doors that keep getting you lower and lower,” Arneson said.
She finally sought treatment with Worthmore Addiction Services in 2006.
“I was 87 pounds,” she said. “It was get help or die at that point. Realistically, I didn’t think I had anything to loose.”
Following the treatment program, Arneson said she was able to stay away from meth for 10 years, but she continued to have nightmares related to childhood trauma. To cope and calm herself, she turned to marijuana.
By November 2016 she relapsed, and Arneson found herself back in court.
Treatment programs through Drug Court have helped and she’s learning different skills, she said. She’s now taking prescription drugs to help with anxiety, but said she worries about the potential for addiction.
“You have way more credibility than I do, because you’ve walked it,” Noem told Arneson.
Others in attendance spoke about family life as a component of addiction.
Mike Waldrop, a pastor and former probation officer, said issues with addiction come down to breakdowns in the family dynamic. And, he said, what one generation learns — or doesn’t learn — is passed down to the next.
Dave Giovannini, senior vice president of Molded Fiber Glass, spoke about difficulties in finding applicants who are able to pass the company’s background check and drug screening. He said workers are encouraged to come forward if they are struggling with addiction so the company can help get them in to a treatment program. He also spoke of a situation during which a worker was high while operating a piece of machinery. That person and a co-worker were both injured, he said.
Noem said she’s heard of companies that have counselors or pastors who walk through their facilities and talk to employees.
“They say it helps identify people who are struggling,” she said.
While gun control wasn’t part of the discussion Thursday morning, it is being discussed in light of the recent school shooting in Florida and the surviving students advocating for tighter gun control, Noem said after the listening session.
While Congress has been in recess since the Feb. 14 shooting, stronger laws dealing with mental health screenings have been been discussed, Noem said.
“Removing guns doesn’t solve the problem,” she said. “I’m interested in taking action to solve the problem.”
Noem said that’s why it’s necessary to have measures in place to ensure people struggling with mental health issues don’t fall through the cracks.
Earlier this week, she invited the NRA to host its national convention in South Dakota.
Attorney General Marty Jackley, Lora Hubbel and Terry LaFleaur are also seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination. The primary is in June.