Pubdate: Fri, 01 Jul 2005
Source: Messenger-Inquirer (KY)
Copyright: 2005 Messenger-Inquirer
Author: Adrienne Steinfledt


The pictures are heartbreaking: frightened toddlers covered in sores, burns
and bruises; baby bottles on counters next to chemical-crusted jars; needles
in nurseries.

About 80 of Muhlenberg County's concerned residents -- including from law
enforcement, social services and schools -- were hit Thursday with the grim
images and startling statistics that tell the story of drug-endangered

Methamphetamine production puts children at risk of injury from explosion or
fire. Exposure to the toxic chemicals used to make meth can cause serious
respiratory problems, skin irritation and sores, watery eyes and
concentration problems.

For babies, the drug ingested through mother's milk can cause death or
mental retardation.

Children of methamphetamine users are four times more likely to suffer
violent abuse and 30 percent more likely to suffer sexual abuse.

Almost all suffer some sort of neglect, the audience heard.

"These are not kids somewhere else," said Muhlenberg County Judge-Executive
Rodney Kirtley on Thursday. "These are our kids. These kids are helpless.
They're begging for our help. We owe it to them."

The meeting marked the beginning of a local task force, the third in the
Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force's 11-county area, designed to make sure the
rescue efforts for kids suffering in meth-ridden homes are swift, caring and

Armed with a new state law that makes manufacturing meth in the presence of
children a felony, the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force is working to organize
and support the officials that end up picking up the pieces.

Agencies must communicate if the problem is to be addressed, said Cheyenne
Albro, director of the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force.

Sometimes, one or the other agency is left out of the loop, and the children
suffer for it, he said.

"We're going to try to build a bond between law enforcement and social
services," Albro said. "This is bigger than egos."

The task force is working with the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky
Alliance for Drug Endangered Children to develop a protocol for dealing with
children who are victims of meth. The basics have been established.

When a child is discovered near a working meth lab, he's stripped naked. His
toys and clothes are probably covered with meth, which becomes airborne when
cooked or smoked.

He's taken to the hospital, where his blood is tested for meth -- more than
30 percent of kids taken from homes with labs test positive -- and he is put
in state custody or the custody of an appropriate family member.

Social workers are responsible for keeping that scary process as calm and
caring as possible.

"That's your simple goal," Kate Finnearty with the Cabinet for Families and
Children told the audience. "It's simple, but it's huge."

Another goal of the task force is to raise public awareness.

If the public knows what to look for, what to report and where to report it,
more children will be taken away safely, said Albro, before they burn in a
meth lab explosion or drink a pop bottle full of acid.

Thursday's meeting was meant to gauge support for the initiative.

After the presentation, though, the audience wanted to act. Several people
demanded to know what they can do -- now.

A second meeting will be scheduled soon, Albro said. That's when the task
force will split into groups and decide what happens next.

The meeting was "a good first step in opening the lines of communication,"
said Muhlenberg County's family services supervisor Ragena Kinney.

"I don't think the public knows the extent of the problem. It's a matter of
getting the word out." 
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