Pubdate: Sun, 20 Nov 2005
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Joy Franklin
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


In one picture, a bearded man sleeps on a couch.

Nearby, a tiny figure huddles in a chair.

The room is empty, but for a lamp between the couch and chair and 
what appears to be a rug in the foreground. To the side, almost out 
of the picture, is a window.

Outside, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and the grass is green.

In another picture, an angry green monster with sharp claws and 
menacing countenance fills the page, an overpowering, dominating presence.

Three small, sad people stand beside and just behind the monster, 
shackled to its arm. The rest of the picture is a chaotic scribble of 
lines and colors. Large black letters label the monster "ADDICTION." 
Dr. Cynthia Brown, medical director of the Child Maltreatment 
Evaluation Program at Mission's Children's Clinic, included the 
pictures in her presentation Wednesday at a summit organized by 
Western Carolina University's Public Policy Institute titled "Winning 
the War on Methamphetamine." Children of methamphetamine addicts drew 
the pictures, which Brown bought back from a conference because they 
so poignantly illustrated the children's plight. The picture of the 
child on the chair seemed especially sad in light of a story Brown 
told following her talk. It is her job to interview and evaluate 
children found in homes in Western North Carolina where 
methamphetamine is being made or used. She interviewed one 6-year-old 
boy who was extremely proud of the fact that he could take care of 
his 3-year-old sister.

He had learned to make several kinds of sandwiches to feed her and he 
could help her get dressed.

He did this, he said, because his parents were "resting." Children of 
meth addicts are essentially orphans, said Brown, whose presentation 
was on the effects of methamphetamine on children. In 20 to 25 
percent of the homes where meth is being "cooked," children are 
present. They face multiple environmental dangers aside from the 
trauma of having dysfunctional parents.

Home life for children of meth-addicted parents is chaotic, Brown 
said. Parents activities are focused on obtaining the next high 
rather than on nurturing the child's growth and development. Children 
who suffer from this kind of serious neglect experience profound 
neurobehavioral deficits as a result. They often have smaller brains, 
lower IQs, poor social skills and attachments disorders.

They fail to thrive and in really severe cases, they lack the ability 
to establish emotional attachments. But the circumstances can be 
worse than simple neglect.

Meth use creates a highly sexualized environment, Brown said, where 
children are often exposed to sexual activity, including prostitution.

Children of meth-addicted parents are three times more likely than 
other children to be physically or sexually abused and four times 
more likely to be neglected, she said.

Homes where meth is being produced pose extreme environmental hazards 
for children. In addition to over-the-counter cold medicines that 
contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, other ingredients commonly used 
in the manufacture of meth include: red phosphorous, hydrochloric 
acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel, and antifreeze. 
These ingredients are often left around the home in unmarked 
containers easily accessible to children. In her presentation, Brown 
included a photograph of child who had put lye in his mouth.

She had a similar case, where the child's tongue and lips were badly burned.

During the actual production of meth, children are exposed to tiny 
aerosolized meth particles that can deeply penetrate the lungs.

No studies have yet been done to evaluate the long-term effects of 
such exposure.

Brown cited a new study that showed that walking or crawling in an 
area where a meth has been made can re-suspend particles of the drug 
and other toxic chemicals as much as 24 hours later.

Children who live in homes where meth is made also risk of harm from 
an explosion or fire. Many of those attending the conference - law 
enforcement officers, social workers, medical personnel and others on 
the front lines of the battle against meth - know first hand about 
the drug's ability to destroy lives. Brown's presentation was 
especially sobering though.

Children are vulnerable, innocent victims.

Their childhoods are being stolen and their futures compromised or 
destroyed by their caregiver's addictions. Brown concluded with a 
wish list for addressing the problem: prevention, effective mental 
health treatment for addicted parents and a child/family therapy 
component, effective clean up of home lab sites, and continued 
multidisciplinary efforts to address the problems of meth addiction 
and the impact on children.

As various other speakers indicated, North Carolina is moving forward 
in a number of these areas, but one critical area that the General 
Assembly will be asked to help with in the upcoming session is 
funding for more foster parents, according to Karen McLeod, executive 
director of the North Carolina Association of County Directors of 
Social Services. In some counties, she said, there's been a doubling 
and even a tripling of the need for foster care as a result of 
removing children from homes where meth is present. Still, McLeod 
said, thanks to the aggressive way Attorney General Roy Cooper has 
tackled the problem, it seems unlikely that North Carolina will end 
up in the crisis situation some other states have confronted. For 
that, we can all be thankful.
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