Pubdate: Sun, 26 Jan 2003
Source: Standard Democrat, The (MO)
Copyright: 2003 DA Publishing, LLC
Author: Leonna Essner


SIKESTON - As methamphetamine use rises in the area so does the 
endangerment to children.

"Meth becomes the main drive in the lives of people who are using it," said 
Semo Drug Task Force Coordinator Kevin Glaser. "Everything else takes 
second seat. They lose their appetite when using meth so they don't buy 
food and their children don't get to eat."

The number of children present at seized methamphetamine laboratory sites 
increased from 950 in 1999 to 2,028 in 2001, according to the Drug 
Enforcement Administration El Paso Intelligence Center National Clandestine 
Laboratory Seizure System as of May 15, 2002.

"I wouldn't even let my dog spend a night in some of the living conditions 
I've seen," Glaser said. "Yet kids are living in these places. It's really 
pathetic, and I have no sympathy for the parents who are using meth."

In 2001 the states reporting the highest number of children present a at 
methamphetamine laboratories were California (509), Washington (326) Oregon 
(241) and Missouri (161), although these figures are recognized as 
underreported because many states do not keep records on children present 
at lab sites or medically evaluate them for the presence of drugs or chemicals.

Chemicals, toxic vapors, abuse and neglect are all forms of dangerous 
situations children may be forced to live in when they have parents who use 
meth and other drugs, Glaser said. "This year we've been more involved in 
requesting assistance from the Division of Family Services than ever in the 
history of my career working narcotics. The number of kids put in danger 
has greatly escalated," Glaser said.

Gary Helle, 33rd Circuit manager for the Division of Family Services for 
Scott and Mississippi counties, said the circuit saw nearly half a dozen 
cases of children who were endangered in 2002 because their parents were 
using meth.

And more children from the 33rd circuit are entering into foster care from 
drug-related situations at home, Helle noted. "Of the six meth 
investigations we had last year, three or four were taken into to custody 
by foster homes or placed with another family member," he said.

Helle said drug use in the state is on a rise, and he thinks it is in the 
area, too. The number of children active in the Division of Family Services 
in 2000 was 18,622, up from 15,671 children active in the Division of 
Family Services in 1997.

"What happens is meth becomes the parents' priority. They use whatever is 
at their disposable to get, use or make their drugs," Helle said.

Helle said meth affects all levels of society. Sometimes abuse and neglect 
may not be present, but a child learns about meth from a drug program in 
school and suddenly pieces of the puzzle together that their parents are 
involved with meth.

Exposure to the toxic chemicals and fumes associated with making meth can 
cause serious short-term and long-term health problems including damage to 
the brain, liver, kidneys, lung, eyes and skin. Glaser said he's seen 
several children who were burned by sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid when 
their parents were cooking meth. However, Glaser thinks the real problems 
have yet to be seen.

"I think a majority of the danger is from breathing in the toxic vapors. 
Right now we don't know the effects. Problems may not start surfacing for a 
few more years," Glaser explained.

Some states such as California and Washington have developed Children Drug 
Endangerment programs. CDE programs bring together law enforcement 
officers, social workers, district attorneys, etc. to remove children from 
homes where meth is produced. The key component of the program is a 
response team that is on call 24 hours a day.

Both Glaser and Helle said they aren't aware of any official CDE programs 
in Missouri, but their agencies do work closely together, they said.

Semo Drug Task Force has pushed enforcing child endangerment laws over the 
last few years because of situations they're seeing, Glaser said. And 
prosecutors have no problem adding these charges to criminals' offenses, he 

There is no excuse to children being exposed to these conditions, Glaser 
said. And these are good, valid charges, he stated.

"Anytime we get reports of child abuse or neglect we immediately notify the 
local law enforcement," Helle said, adding, "The Division of Family 
Services, local law enforcement agencies and the Semo Drug Task Force work 
well together in investigating meth cases."

The cause of all the cases the 33rd circuit receives is not normally a 
parent losing their temper and taking it out on their child, Helle said. 
It's more of a combination of drugs and a chaotic lifestyle, he explained.

The meth problem is not yet diminishing, Glaser noted, adding that cocaine 
and marijuana problems are still there. Glaser estimated when the 2002 
statistics are completed, they will show a continuing increase of the 
area's meth problem. "It's ongoing," Helle said. "There's no safe haven in 
any community. Child abuse and neglect are never far away.

Helle continued: "We as a community have to keep our eyes and ears open. We 
have to do something to protect our kids."
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