Pubdate: Wed, 12 Mar 2003
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2003 The State
Author: Bill Poovey
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - An increasing number of Tennessee parents caught 
cooking poisonous chemicals to make methamphetamine and using the drug to 
get high are paying a big price: custody of their children.

The state has taken 488 children from parents caught making or using the 
illegal, addictive stimulant since Jan. 1, 2002, according to the Tennessee 
Department of Children's Services' first such report.

The children, who can be removed immediately from the parents, are then 
placed with foster parents or relatives who can pass state evaluations and 
home inspections.

Some meth users lose custody of their children permanently.

Of the meth-related removals of children, 273 were in rural Grundy, Marion, 
Sequatchie, Bledsoe, Bradley, Franklin, McMinn, Meigs, Rhea and Polk 
counties in southeastern Tennessee.

The mountainous region has seen a rapid rise in meth use and manufacture 
during the past few years. Experts say the drug is more prevalent in 
sparsely populated communities because it is easier to hide the offensive 
odor of the labs.

"I don't think that in reality they really don't love their kids anymore," 
said Diane Easterly, the department's team coordinator for Grundy, Franklin 
and Marion counties. "It is on a different wavelength. They just don't 
think. This poses such a risk to children. You are just cooking poison."

Vapors from cooking meth can cause respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, 
rashes and sores. Exposure to fumes can cause loss of consciousness and 
even death, and the labs sometimes explode and burn. Long-term meth use can 
create paranoia and hallucinations.

A year-old state law is making it easier to remove children who are exposed 
to meth making by defining such cases as severe child abuse.

Clothing, toys and other belongings are considered contaminated by such 
exposure. And when parents are arrested, often at night, children are 
forced to leave home with nothing. Contaminated belongings must be removed 
by workers wearing gas masks and protective suits.

Dr. Sullivan Smith, a Cookeville physician and police officer who has 
worked for years to combat the drug, described the 488 removals of children 
as the "tip of the iceberg."

Smith said parents who make the drug typically neglect their children's 
health and emotional needs generally, Smith said.

"Then you've got all that chemical exposure on top of it," he said. "I 
can't think of a much worse place for a kid to be."

Child protection case workers and law enforcement officers say profit is 
not the reason people make meth.

Users get hooked and then pay for their habit by setting up home labs to 
cook the drug, Easterly said. Meth is made with commonly available 
materials - ephedrine from cold tablets blended with hazardous materials 
such as drain cleaner (sulfuric acid) and matchbook striking pads (red 

"Physically once you get on it, there's only about a 5 percent chance 
you'll ever break it. It's about a 95 percent relapse rate," Smith said.

An Appalachia region High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report shows 388 
meth labs raided in Tennessee last year, up from 353 in 2001 and 168 the 
previous year. The report showed 300 meth labs raided in Kentucky and 41 in 
West Virginia last year.

Overall, about 10,000 children are in the custody of Tennessee's foster 
care system.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom