Pubdate: Fri, 14 Oct 2005
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Marty Primeau
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Children Caught Up in Meth Lab Boom

The weird smell wafting from children's belongings had the staff at
Panhandle Assessment Center baffled.

"We couldn't figure out what the odor was," said Anne Friemel,
director of the shelter that takes in abused and neglected children.

"It wasn't filth or rancid smoke. It was just strange."

Turns out it was meth chemicals.

And as Child Protective Services delivered more and more youngsters
carrying funny smelling teddy bears and blankets, Friemel realized a
lot of her tiny new residents had been exposed to deadly toxins.

The increase in methamphetamine abuse has led to the recent formation
of the Potter-Randall Drug Endangered Children team, involving members
of law enforcement, CPS and prosecutors as well as medical and mental
health professionals.

"There's been a phenomenal growth in the number of meth labs in our
area, and we know that the chemicals used to make it are dangerous to
everyone involved," Randall County Criminal District Attorney James
Farren said.

Law enforcement agents wear hazmat suits to prevent irreparable damage
to their systems when investigating meth labs, he said.

"And here we find children crawling around in that nasty stuff. We've
found chemicals in their hair and the pores of their skin," Farren

In the past, when CPS removed children from a home, social workers
allowed the children to take familiar objects to ease the transition.

"Now we know we have to decontaminate them immediately by washing them
off and giving them a change of clothing," Farren said. "They have to
leave everything behind."

The local DEC team is a spinoff of a national alliance launched in
2003 to establish protocols when dealing with children exposed to
dangerous drug environments.

On Wednesday, members of the Texas Alliance conducted a daylong
training session at Amarillo College for more than 300 members of
government and private sectors.

Attendees watched power-point presentations showing gruesome photos of
toddlers with burns on their faces and playpens with acids and other
poisons within reach.

"Meth use also enhances libido so we see an increase in sexual abuse,"
said Shannon Burch, CPS senior investigator. "And meth users also
experience paranoia, so that puts children at a greater risk of
physical abuse."

Burch said at least 80 percent of child-abuse investigations involve
drug use by the parents or caretakers. In 2004, CPS conducted 6,406
investigations in Region 1, which extends from the Texas Panhandle to
south of Lubbock.

By making people more aware of the dangers, Burch and other organizers
are hoping to increase awareness and open lines of

School counselors and nurses who recognize signs of meth exposure in
students will be more likely to report suspicious behavior.

"A lot of people believe drug use is a victimless crime," Burch said.
"But it's the kids who end up being the victims."

Eventually, the Potter/Randall DEC team plans to set up a mobile
decontamination van that will allow investigators and CPS workers to
clean children and provide clothing, stuffed toys and other
necessities at the scene.

"We're also hoping more people will call us if they see something
suspicious," Farren said. "If they know children are endangered,
they're more likely to step forward."

Anyone who would like to donate baby wipes, children's clothing,
diapers, stuffed animals and other items can call Friemel at 372-2873.



# Unusual odors (ether, ammonia, acetone, or other

# Excessive amounts of trash, particularly chemical containers, coffee
filters or pieces of cloth that are stained red, and duct tape rolls

# Curtains always drawn or windows covered with aluminum foil or
blackened on residences, garages, sheds, or other structures

# Evidence of chemical waste or dumping


Simply being exposed to the toxic chemicals used to produce the drug
poses a variety of health risks, including intoxication, dizziness,
nausea, disorientation, lack of coordination, pulmonary edema, serious
respiratory problems, severe chemical burns, and damage to internal

- National Drug Intelligence Center