You hear a lot about the rise in meth abuse in our area, but another drug is taking a hold of communities in KELOLAND, often with deadly results. 

Law enforcement has seen an alarming increase in opioid use, whether its Heroin or OxyContin or Hydrocodone–it’s all highly addictive. 

A 19-year old man is facing charges in Brooking for having two pounds of black tar heroin. 

Rapid City police are investigating a deadly heroin overdose that happened a week ago, in addition to two other opioid overdose deaths in Pennington County this year. 

25-year-old Kristen Bernard was an artist who also loved to write and read books.  But she started using drugs 10 years ago when she was just a sophomore at Lincoln High School.  It began with cough syrup and progressed to prescription pills. 

“The kids in school take their parents’ medications.  I know there were a lot of prescription drugs that other kids were bringing,” Liana Bernard said.

As the years passed, Liana Bernard helplessly witnessed the disease of addiction take hold of her daughter. 

“She’d walk in and she wouldn’t be able to stand She didn’t know where she was.  And I knew at this point she was using needles. I didn’t know that for a while–that she was being reckless with her life and I didn’t understand why,” Bernard said.

Bernard desperately tried to get Kristen into a treatment center.

“We didn’t have insurance.  One I spoke to wanted $5,000 right away. I spent two days on the phone.  The best thing I could do at the time was get her to the methadone clinic, it was easy, it was cheap and we did really good for about a year and a half,” Bernard said.

But less than two weeks after being weaned off methadone, Kristen was back on opioids and other drugs. 

Liana sent her away to Alaska to visit her dad, but instead of helping the problem, Kristen got worse.  When she returned home, Liana knew she had to do something drastic. 

 “So I got her to the hospital, where they got her checked out–I had her in detox,” Bernard said.

Liana says she begged for help.

“If somebody doesn’t help me, she’s going to die–straight up–she’s going to die. He said well we’re going to get her into a 90 day program and by the time she was released out of detox they didn’t have any beds open.  They sent her home,” Bernard said.

That was just last spring.  Liana felt all alone in the fight for her Kristen’s life. 

“I can imagine a lot of parents doing what I do–where you just sit home and you go check on them to make sure they’re breathing–you chase people out of your yard–it’s a battle it’s literally a battle. Unless somebody has room or the means to bring them somewhere where they can be kept and held, there’s nothing you can do,” Bernard said.

“Not enough treatment facilities–not enough methods or providers to do the identification and properly get people into treatment.  Put all those things together and a mother or father getting them into treatment–their options are pretty slim,” David Whitesock said. 

Face it Together Recovery Coach David Whitesock says cases like Kristen’s are becoming all too common.

“If you look at all of the people; especially the young kids in their 20’s who have overdosed and died–there were a lot of different signs.  But they just weren’t recognized at the right time,” Whitesock said.

“I kept her home, because if I thought if I kept her here at home she’d live longer and that I could help her.  It didn’t work,” Bernard said.

Two weeks ago, when Bernard went to work, Kristen took off with a new boyfriend. 

“They had gone over to what’s known as a drug house here in town, and when I got to work Friday and officer came to my work and let me know she had been found dead at that house… full of people,” Bernard said. 

Police are continuing to investigate, but Bernard says detectives told her OxyContin was found in the home.  She is now waiting for the toxicology reports. While Sioux Falls Police aren’t seizing large amounts of opioids in the city, they have found 18 times more heroin in the first six months of 2016 than in all of 2014.

“It’s in the good neighborhoods, it’s in the bad neighborhoods–it’s right around the corner. It’s everywhere,” Bernard said. 

Bernard realizes that some may write her daughter off as just another junkie, but she remembers the little girl who loved unicorns, fairies and playing pretend. 

“At some point she wanted to work with dolphins. She wanted to write. She could have done and been anything,” Bernard said.

AK: Do you feel like she was robbed, like you were robbed?

“Damn right,” Bernard said.

Between 2005 and 2007 South Dakota saw an average of about 20 opioid deaths per year, but in the latest figures available from the Department of Health, from 2014, that number had jumped to 32 deaths, and officials expect 2015 and 2016 overdose numbers to be much higher.

“It shouldn’t be happening.  How do we solve that problem?  How do we change that problem so that people aren’t dying?  That’s a hard question,” Whitesock said.

A question that Bernard hopes her daughter’s death can at least prompt more people to ask.

“She was a good girl.  She had one major problem and we fought that problem the best that we could and we lost.