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August 22, 2012 06:18 PM

Crews Clean Up Wagner Meth House

Wagner, SD

The death of 2-year-old Reilee Lovell on the Yankton Reservation in Wagner has put a renewed focus on meth use by Native Americans.

Authorities say Taylor and Laurie Cournoyer were using meth and other drugs while Lovell was in their care. Her body was found inside a closet in a home on the reservation, at least 36 hours after she died.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe isn't alone in its struggle against methamphetamine abuse. And while local statistics are hard to come by, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report shows meth is disproportionately devastating Native American communities like Wagner.

According to the report, 74 percent of tribal police officer rank meth as the number one drug problem on reservations.

The Reilee Lovell case simply puts a face on what is believed to be a bigger problem. Because nearly half of all tribal police believe an increase in child neglect and abuse cases are linked to increased meth use.

Nationally, 40 percent of all violent crime on tribal land is also believed to be linked to meth use.

And officials as many as two-thirds of all domestic violence cases on the country's reservations could be linked to the use of the drug.

On Wednesday, a cleaning crew armed with coveralls and breathing masks is fighting back.

Joe Newcomb, with Santi-Kleen Environmental Solutions, oversees the cleanup and says traces of meth have contaminated nearly every surface of Taylor and Laurie Cournoyer's former home.

"Meth is such a monster. And then you have kids that die in them, you know," Newcomb said.

Two-year-old RieLee Lovell was found inside the closet, after the Cournoyers were on an alleged drug binge involving methamphetamine in July.

Based on the high meth levels inside the home, Newcomb says the drug was manufactured and sold here, possibly for years before the Cournoyers moved in.

"We've dealt with alcoholism, with cocaine, heroin, all these other things but this meth has them all beat. It's horrible," Yankton Sioux Housing Authority's Karen Archambeau said.

The home is under the care of Yankton Sioux Housing Authority. Officials say this home passed through several hands over the years, pointing to a serious meth problem in the area.

Santi-Kleen Environmental Solutions is teaching the local workers how to properly rid homes of meth so it can be done locally at a lower cost.

"I think it is very important that this be done. We have a lot of little children that are being exposed to this terrible drug and it's so terrible because our kids don't have a chance," Archambeau said.

Archambeau, the woman who ordered the home cleanup for the Yankton Sioux Housing Authority is the aunt of Taylor Cournoyer one of three people charged in RieLee Lovell's death.

Crews will be cleaning up the home until Friday.

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