Pubdate: Sun, 24 Aug 2003
Source: Tuscaloosa News, The (AL)
Copyright: 2003 The Tuscaloosa News
Author: Scott Parrott
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Like other drugs, methamphetamine has torn apart hundreds of Alabama

But it has also placed children in more immediate danger, as parents
and guardians become amateur chemists and brew batches of the drug
inside homes littered with toys and highly explosive chemicals.

"The meth lab problem is stalking the children of Alabama," said Bill
Fuller, the commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources.

More and more people have started using meth because it is cheaper,
more powerful and carries a longer high than cocaine. Just about
anyone can make the drug using household chemicals and simple recipes
printed from the Internet.

Since recognizing the growing problem about two years ago, the state
Department of Human Resources has taken on more than 3,000 new child
welfare cases stemming from meth labs. Now, one out of every five
children the agency takes away from an abusive or neglectful home
comes from a home torn apart by meth, Fuller said.

Increasingly, caseworkers are stumbling upon meth labs while
performing welfare checks on cases they're already handling. They have
also started accompanying law enforcement personnel on drug raids.

Often, the children don't want to leave their parents, Fuller

"They don't understand it's wrong," Fuller said. "They want to stay
and help mommy and help grandma. We're taking children out of
grandma's arms, and grandma's running the lab."

Most of the meth-related child welfare cases come from northeastern
Alabama, where labs run rampant in rural counties. The problem isn't
as widespread in Tuscaloosa County, though it is present, Capt. Jeff
Snyder, commander of the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force, said.

"Half these agents come back from a meth lab search warrant and
they're literally depressed," said Lyn Durham, a prosecutor handling
meth cases for the Tuscaloosa County District Attorney's Office. "A
couple of them are almost to the point of tears because they can see
what these people used to be ... and what this has done to them."

When DHR takes children away from abusive or neglectful relationships
involving meth, it tries to place them with relatives. But many times,
the agency has been forced to find alternative living arrangements,
whether through foster care or group homes, because caseworkers
discover the relatives are also cooking the drug, Fuller said.

DHR will begin training child welfare caseworkers to recognize labs
and the drug, as well as provide safety steps to protect caseworkers
and the children they take away from homes.

It's the latest step in efforts by government bodies to protect
children from meth. In 2001, the Alabama Legislature toughened the
laws against manufacturing meth, making it a first-degree felony when
children are present or if the lab is located within 500 feet of a

Oklahoma City officials have created an "endangered children's"
program for kids found living in homes that were turned into labs. The
program provides medical care to children possibly exposed to toxic

And anti-drug groups have joined the government in focusing on
prevention. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America is testing a
campaign in Missouri and Phoenix, two meth hot spots, warning of the
dangers associated with the drug. The commercials describe risks meth
can pose to users and children.

Shelli Garner lost her only boy after she plummeted into drug
addiction. He could have been five, maybe six, when he moved in with
his father, her ex-husband. The more Garner injected or smoked
methamphetamine, the more the days and the weeks and the months
blended into one and then disappeared, until the calendar no longer

"You would stay up so long that your brain wasn't functioning right,"
Garner, now 32 and no longer a meth user, said.

In the end, her ex-husband was granted full custody of the boy,
another child touched by the growing meth epidemic in Alabama.

Garner knows the risks meth poses. She lost her job, spent time in
jail and suffered second- and third-degree burns on her upper body
after accidentally setting herself on fire while cooking meth.

But the worst harm, she said, came from losing her only

Two years ago, Garner kicked her meth habit through drug court, the
criminal justice system geared toward providing treatment instead of
punishment for addicts.

She had lost her only son; now she has him back.

"God was watching over us," she said.
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