Nebraska Attorneys, Recovered Addict Searching for Solutions to State's "Number One Drug Challenge"
By Aaron Bonderson , Report for America Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Feb. 15, 2022, 5 a.m. ·
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Nebraska law enforcement continue to deal with what’s described as high methamphetamine usage in the state. Meth has affected numerous people in Nebraska, such as law enforcement personnel investigating cases and those using and selling the drug.
On January 26th, in Kearney, Nebraska, a five-agency collaboration was announced to address the methamphetamine problem in Nebraska. The state's Attorney General Doug Peterson called meth Nebraska’s number one drug threat.
“We're going to be kicking off a program in which we partner with the federal authorities across the state in Nebraska, to fight the number one drug and number one drug challenge for the state of Nebraska and that's meth,” Peterson said. “We've been fighting meth for 20 years in Nebraska.”
Peterson said there were two arrests made in the last four months in Nebraska where 500 grams of meth were found. He said that's equal to tens of thousands of doses. The attorney general's office wasn’t able to provide recent data on the number of arrests and convictions in Nebraska relating to meth.
Donna Fegler Daiss has been the district attorney in central Nebraska’s Adams County, which includes Hastings, for more than 30 years. She said meth has never been more of a problem in her area.
“I’ve seen a huge transition over the years, and especially with regard to methamphetamine. Methamphetamine was just, sort of, coming on the scene when I started in this position,” Fegler Daiss said. “And obviously now, a week does not go by without multiple cases being filed by this office with regard to either possession or distribution of meth.”
Fegler Daiss said property damage cases are sometimes traced back to meth addiction. Users are also selling stolen items to support their addiction financially.
Treatment in Nebraska
Brittany Carder is a recovered meth user and distributor from Chadron, Nebraska, a town of about 5,000 in the panhandle. She was sent to prison and was released in January of 2020. Carder said the closest rehabilitation center to Chadron is in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, which is 45 minutes away.
“There needs to be some sort of option in general to go to, because like I said with Chadron, the only option you have for any sort of meeting is Alcoholics Anonymous,” Carder said, “and someone that’s addicted to heroin, meth, coke, anything like that, they’re not going to that meeting. It’s not going to happen. There’s no option.”
She said the Scottsbluff facility doesn’t offer residential, in-patient care. The hour-and-a-half roundtrip creates transportation issues and leads to second-guessing and anxiousness about treatment.
Carder said more in-patient care, out-patient care, and safe house options are needed for rural Nebraska to reasonably combat its meth issues. Additionally, she said mental health treatment for youth can help reduce the tendency to be addicted in adulthood. She said sentencing convicted users to treatment would help address addiction better than prison.
“I think the justice side needs to just be more open to the idea that addiction is a mental illness,” Carder said. “Yes, we cross the lines of justice on that, but if you catch somebody who’s got a possession charge, get them help.”
Carder said most people require a more empathetic approach to fight addiction, such as the Community Justice Center based in Lincoln, which is a form of restorative justice. Classes run by justice educators dive into a user’s emotions and thoughts while also examining how their decisions affect loved ones.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln did a study last year that found 81 of Nebraska’s 93 counties have a mental health professional shortage. The study also revealed there’s 33 counties in the state without a single behavioral health professional.