Oil Boom Leads to Meth Problem on Native American Reservation

By Victoria Kim 02/26/15

The MHA Nation has seen a frightening rise in crime, drugs, and addiction.

oil derrick sunset.jpg

Crystal meth has ravaged the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where drug dealing and addiction has boomed as a result of new oil wealth.

Since a revolution in drilling technology led to a boom in production in the Bakken oil fields, the reservation where the MHA Nation—a union of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes—resides, has become a haven for drug dealers.

It is the meeting point of money, a vast and isolated terrain and a rat’s nest of federal and local law that makes it difficult to arrest and prosecute outsiders, said the Los Angeles Times.

Many tribal members receive oil royalty money, from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars a month. Amelia Reed, who lives on the reservation and is addicted to meth, receives royalty money from land she inherited on the reservation. The monthly checks made it easy for her to drop at least $400 a month for her habit.

“This used to be home,” said Reed. “Because of the drugs and the oil boom, it’s not the same as when I was growing up…Everyone is scared here.”

Small-time meth dealers have been replaced by large scale, out-of-state dealers from California, Colorado, Utah, and even Latin America, most of whom are heavily armed.

“Instead of finding an 8-ball of meth, now you’re finding pounds,” said Tim Purdon, U.S. Attorney for North Dakota. “When we serve search warrants now, we don’t just find drugs; we find firearms. Everyone is heavily armed. There are more and more guns.”

The influx of meth, addiction, and crime has proved a challenge for local tribal law enforcement. The number of drug-related arrests of tribal members on the reservation has increased from 47 in 2008 to over 800 in 2014, according to tribal public safety statistics.

MHA Nation Chief Judge Diane Johnson said that before the oil boom about 30% of the cases that came to her were drug-related. Now that number is closer to 90%.

The reservation saw a rise in children born addicted to opiates as well. It was unheard of until 2010, when child services officials saw their first drug-addicted baby born on the reservation. There have been at least 15 such cases since.

"Now my first son was born with it. I was pregnant and selfish and wouldn't stop doing it," said Reed, who once spent most of a $147,000 cash out on meth.

"I don't think there is a family on this reservation that hasn't been affected in one way or another," said Police Chief Chad Johnson.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr