Over the past two months, I’ve been listening to and reporting on stories involving the rise in drug use and crime in western North Dakota — mostly here in Dickinson.
In early July, I reported that the rise in drug activity has coincided with the drop in drug prices in our area. Methamphetamine that was selling for $3,000 during the height of the Bakken oil boom is now going for $800 on the street, one of our area’s lead drug investigators says.
Meth, heroin and cocaine. It’s all out there, too. Every day.
Adding to the mix is the incredibly dangerous and deadly fentanyl, a drug so bad it has caught the attention of U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and other leaders in Washington who are proposing legislation that would make it illegal for the substance to enter the United States.
Along with that, I reported about how gang members — both street gangs and biker gangs — have made their presence felt in Dickinson and the surrounding areas, and are directly tied to the rise in drug crime. The Country Boy Crips, the Hells Angels, the Sons of Silence. They’re all here in some way, shape or form.
Most of us tend not to see any of this happening. This is the activity that lurks mostly in the shadows. Still, we need to be aware that it is indeed happening.
So much that we’ve even, often regrettably, stopped considering some of it news.
Cases in Southwest District Court involving meth, heroin and cocaine were once a big deal to our newspaper. When I first took over as editor more than three years ago and in years prior to that, when those type of cases came up, we reported on them. Now, they’re mostly relegated to our daily Police Blotter section and only the bigger drug crime cases are followed into court.
There’s simply too many drug crimes taking place in our area to justify complete coverage. Plus, most of the major drug arrests get bumped up to the federal level almost immediately, making them difficult to follow from arrest to conviction. Still others plead out for jail time.
Leaders of the Southwest Narcotics Task Force and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation say drug crime here is worse than ever, and they’re constantly faced with new challenges on how to fight it.
Earlier this month, the leaders of our area’s task force introduced themselves to the Dickinson City Commission, who listened for 15 minutes to the stories of challenges faced by our law enforcement, and how the task force’s staff can only handle the worst of the worst problems coming through our area.
They’re on track to make fewer drug arrests this year because they’re focusing primarily on the big drug deals.
That means they’re less concerned about petty drug users, and are more concerned about catching dealers — many of whom have gang ties that often reach all the way to Mexico or Canada.
The task force is concerned that even when they are able to add more staff, the problems will keep stacking up. And it’s not just them. Our local police and sheriff’s departments, state attorney’s offices, and as far up as the U.S. District Attorney’s office are all slammed with problems related to drug crimes in some way, shape or form.
Next Tuesday, many of our city and legislative leaders and several behavioral and public health professionals who deal will attend a state-sponsored Opioid Symposiums being held Tuesday in Bismarck.
It’ll be a unique venue for them to network and to learn more about how to combat the rising drug use and crime.
Whether it’s marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroin or fentanyl, the point needs to be driven home that there’s a drug culture in western North Dakota that’s here to stay. It’s growing and it’s bringing a gang culture with it. It’s time we start looking at it seriously and do something about it.