A Controversial Awareness Campaign Hits Home but Misses the Mark for Some in South Dakota

South Dakota

A news story out of South Dakota made national headlines when the state launched a controversial media campaign. Governor Kristi Noem led an ad campaign to raise awareness of the state’s meth problem. The slogan of the campaign was: “Meth. We’re On It.”

Many are criticizing Noem and the state government for launching a program that suggests that everyone in South Dakota is using methamphetamine. Clearly, that wasn’t the state government’s intention. Noem and her administration stand behind the campaign, insisting that the media efforts are raising awareness of the drug problem and getting people talking about it.

It is true that states and the nation as a whole have to break free from the ever-present, ever-growing drug problem. One key component of this is public discussion and awareness of the issue. While the intention of the Governor’s campaign is admirable, the message has created some unnecessary negative attention.

Is South Dakota Raising Awareness?

The recent media campaign in South Dakota included a website, a series of public service announcements, posters, and billboards. The PSAs featured clips of South Dakota residents saying, “I’m on meth.”

Since the campaign launched, people on social media have been in an uproar about it, with South Dakota residents taking to Twitter to berate the governor, her staff, and the Minnesota-based marketing agency that came up with the slogan. Angry South Dakotans are saying that the campaign implies that all South Dakotans use meth. They’re saying that the ad campaign isn’t fair to those in South Dakota who don't use meth.

The ad campaign, which seems to be spun from the same cloth as the “got milk” campaign, is making some headway and many in the state understand the intention behind it and have begun to rally to support the Governor’s attempts to get people talking.

For generations, drug use was not openly discussed in the mostly rural, Midwestern towns of South Dakota. Now some people are talking about these issues. And if people are communicating, they can talk about fixing those problems. And if they can talk about solutions, they can come up with ideas, plans, strategies, and methodologies for reducing the meth problem. That’s the goal behind the media campaign. The goal is to get South Dakotans talking about the meth addiction crisis. Talking about the issue is the first step to addressing the problem and eliminating it. But what are the people saying?

“Meth. It’s a problem, and it needs to be addressed. Combating it needs to be a dinner table conversation. We need everyone on it. We’re starting the conversation – It. Is. Working.”

To quote Governor Kristi Noem, “Meth. It’s a problem, and it needs to be addressed. Combating it needs to be a dinner table conversation. We need everyone on it. We’re starting the conversation—It. Is. Working.” Governor Noem’s solution is a move in the right direction. Perhaps, there is a better slogan for people to rally behind, but people are certainly talking about it. It will take time to see if the campaign is working and lowering meth use in the state.

South Dakota Meth Statistics

Meth-smoking teenagers

There’s a good reason for the Governor’s urgency to raise awareness of the meth problem in her state. According to a press release issued by the Governor’s office, “Twice as many South Dakota 12-17 year-olds report using meth in the past year than the national average. … About 83% of South Dakota’s 2019 court admissions for controlled substances [were] methamphetamine-related.”

The South Dakota Department of Social Services released data on meth addiction in the state. The publication highlighted meth statistics in the region over the past several years, indicating the growth of the problem. For example, “In 2016 there were 2,687 arrests in 46 counties across South Dakota with 64 pounds of meth seized and 9 labs found.”

And it’s not just meth that’s causing problems either. As meth use has increased in South Dakota, other drug problems are getting worse too. For example, opioid misuse is causing overdose deaths to soar in the Mount Rushmore State. Quoting the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths increased significantly in South Dakota from 2013 (6.9 per 100,000) to 2017 (8.5 per 100,000).”

South Dakota does have a meth problem. There’s no doubting it. It is a serious problem and one that should not be taken lightly. It is an excellent reason to get people talking about the issue, to get them educated on the problem. It’s a good reason to get help for those in South Dakota who are hooked on meth. And it’s a good reason to work hard to prevent more people from experimenting with drugs.

Changing Traditions

Drug use has long been a taboo subject. “We just don’t talk about it,” is the general line. But like many other subjects, if we avoid talking about the problem, that’s about the same thing as standing by in complicity while the problem persists.

Having myself grown up in the Midwest, drugs, addiction, drug crime, recreational drug use, etc., were not things that families talked about. And while an ad campaign proclaiming solidarity with the states meth users missed the mark, the intention behind the campaign, to educate the public about drug abuse, is a noble one.

There’s nothing wrong with holding to traditional values and insisting on a drug-free society. But the idea that “If we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen,” is simply a way to ignore our problems.

We need to have a conversation about drugs. And we need to keep having it until people are educated about the dangers and risks of drug use.

When people are well-educated and informed as to the truth about drugs, they are far less likely to experiment with such substances. We should be openly conversing about this subject. We should be talking about the drug problem, how harmful drug use is, and how important it is for those who are addicted to seek help.

Yes, America is on drugs. Now, what are we going to do about it?

Let’s talk about it, inform people, help addicts get into and through residential treatment centers, and do our best to create a better society. This problem will not go away if we stay silent.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.