Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jul 2004
Source: Grand Forks Herald (ND)
Section: Page 01
Address: 375 Second Ave. North, Grand Forks, ND 58203
Copyright: 2004 Grand Forks Herald
Author: Rona K. Johnson


It's Dangerous And Deadly For Grown-Ups. For The Children Of Addicts,
It's A Living Nightmare.

Children, of course, shouldn't be exposed to methamphetamines or the people 
who use and sell the drug, but it's not unusual for law enforcement to find 
children when they bust clandestine meth labs.

"The living conditions, in some cases, are almost subhuman," said a Grand 
Forks police officer when asked to describe what they sometimes encounter 
when busting a meth lab. In one residence where meth was being cooked, 
police found an 18-month-old baby in a child's swing, he said. "The fumes 
in that place were very prevalent," he said. In some cases, he's seen 
broken picture frames and glass on the floor and piles of dirty clothes 
strewn everywhere. "In one house, we went to the basement, and it was 
partially flooded - there was about six inches of water on the floor," he 

Along with the health risks to children from the chemicals used to make 
meth, there also are the risks associated with drug abuse, including 
neglect, violence and abuse. On the rise It's a problem that's been growing 
for area rural law enforcement and social service agencies in recent years.

According to the North Dakota Bureau of Investigation, 295 labs were seized 
in the state in 2003, compared with 46 in 2001. In Minnesota, 422 suspected 
labs were seized, compared with 51 in 2001. And in both states, the labs 
are mostly located in rural areas, and many times, children are involved. 
According to the El Paso (Texas) Intelligence Center, Minnesota reported 
944 clandestine meth lab seizures between 1999 and 2003. In those cases, 
law enforcement reported 112 children were affected; two children were 
killed, and seven were injured. North Dakota reported 596 labs with 52 
children affected in the same five-year pe-riod. Two of those children were 
injured. The center was established in 1997 as a national database on 
clandestine laboratory seizures.

The center receives its information from state law enforcement officials. 
The center's numbers can differ from the states' tallies because the center 
includes busts where meth is found and being cooked, dump sites and cases 
where chemicals, glassware and meth-making equipment were seized, while the 
states have tighter criteria for listing a bust as a meth lab.

On a positive note, however, this week, North Dakota reported that 108 labs 
have been busted through June of this year. That's down from 176 labs in 
the same period in 2003.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem attributed some of the 
decline to tougher laws that make it difficult to buy large quantities of 
cold medicines, which are used to make the drug.


Children not only are exposed to dangerous chemicals and gases, but also to 
people who are more concerned about getting high than their children's 
welfare, officials have found.

Often at a meth bust, there's a heavy odor in the residence, especially 
where meth is being cooked, said the local officer, a member of the Grand 
Forks Narcotic Task Force who asked to remain anonymous. Meth is made with 
common household ingredients that are mixed together and cooked. People who 
are exposed to the chemicals before, during and after the manufacturing 
process can suffer health problems.

The first order of business for officers when they bust a meth lab is to 
secure the scene, the local officer said. If there are children involved, 
police automatically remove them if they are in danger.

"Often, we have fire and ambulance standing by," the Grand Forks officer said.

And if children are involved, they also contact the local county social 
services agency. When the local task force makes a meth bust, Grand Forks 
County Social Services has to be prepared, at the drop of a hat, to take 
care of any children who are involved, said Irene Dybwad, family service 

"We get reports of abuse and neglect, and when those reports come in, we 
make a child protection assessment on the family," said Shari Fiedler, 
child protection supervisor for Grand Forks County. If they determine that 
the child or children aren't safe, they ask the court to intervene. "There 
have been more cases recently where if the police plan to make a bust, and 
they're going to be arresting the parents, they will contact us ahead of 
time," she said.

Finding Safety

The police and social services try to speak with parents to find out if 
there's a relative appropriate, or a close friend in the community, to take 
in their children. But if that's not the case, it's social service's 
responsibility to find other arrangements.

Dybwad said her agency placed 76 children in foster care in Grand Forks 
County in the past year. In about 25 percent or 30 percent of those cases, 
meth was involved.

"Meth is very much an increasing concern," she said. "We're seeing the 
impact in our peaceful North Dakota." If family members aren't available, 
they need to place the children in foster care and, if at all possible, 
keep siblings together. "We end up pulling in a lot of extended family - 
there are a lot of grandparents out there who end up raising their 
grandchildren," Dybwad said. But keeping the children together is not 
always possible, which can add to the stress the children already are 
facing.  And it throws a monkey wrench into an already unstructured family.

Emotional Scars

"Some common things we see is that the oldest child has been a caregiver, 
because Mom and Dad weren't available," Dybwad said. "So, you could have a 
6-year-old child that's been acting as the parent."

Children who come from homes where parents are using, dealing and making 
meth have gone through some heavy-duty experiences that leave them 
emotionally disturbed and angry, Dybwad said. Parents on meth will 
sometimes leave the children alone with people that they don't even know.

"A real sad thing is that some of the littler kids are coming to us with 
some incredible behavior problems," she said. In some cases, foster homes 
and even extended family just can't meet the needs of the meth-affected 
children. "We're seeing a pattern that's going to continue, where younger 
children are going into residential treatment care," she said. Toxic 
environment In addition to the emotional trauma, children in meth homes may 
also be exposed to dangerous chemicals. "We don't know the toxic impact 
that it has on them when meth is consistently used or made," Dybwad said. 
"We're going to need some long-term studies to get a full appreciation of 
the medical things that these children experience." In the meantime, the 
hope is that the parents will get help and eventually will be able to get 
their children back. "You make every reasonable effort to get at least one 
parent stabilized for the children," she said. In the cases where the 
children are returned to parents, a safety net has to be installed 
involving regular testing and monitoring, officials said.
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