Pubdate: Mon, 16 Jan 2006
Source: Daily Times, The (TN)
Copyright: 2006 Horvitz Newspapers
Author: Bill Poovey, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Youth)


CHATTANOOGA -- With Tennessee restricting sales of medications that 
can be used to make methamphetamine, records show the number of 
children taken from parents caught making or using the illegal drug 
is down drastically, possibly by more than half.

The state Department of Children's Services provided records to The 
Associated Press showing that meth investigations forced the state to 
take custody of at least 268 children in 2005.

That's down from a department estimate of 750 children taken from 
their parents because of meth in 2004.

Betsy Dunn, a child protective services case manager in Putnam 
County, said she and co-workers "have certainly seen a decrease in 
the number of children coming into state custody due to meth labs, 
also meth usage as well."

Starting April 1, the state mandated that Sudafed and other tablets 
containing pseudoephedrine be put behind pharmacy counters. 
Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant that can be used with other 
inexpensive products to make methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant.

Making meth creates toxic, sickening vapors, and the state has taken 
hundreds of children from parents who exposed them to meth labs.

But the 268 children taken into custody last year may not reflect the 
full total because reporting by caseworkers is not mandatory, said 
Children's Services spokeswoman Calista Doll.

Records show that during the nine full months after the restrictions 
started, at least 111 children were taken from parents or guardians 
in meth investigations. Doll said there were no reliable monthly 
totals available for the first three months of 2005.

The lower number of children taken into state custody coincides with 
police agencies reporting a sizable drop in arrests for manufacturing 
meth since the state restricted sales of the medications.

In 2004, investigators seized 1,574 labs in Tennessee -- the 
second-highest lab seizure rate in the nation, behind Missouri, 
according to a statement from Gov. Phil Bredesen's office.

Tom Farmer, a Hamilton County narcotics officer who works with the 
federally funded South/East Tennessee Meth Task Force, said the 
number of meth labs is down about 45 percent since the restrictions 
on pseudoephedrine started.

"No question the law has had a dramatic impact," Farmer said.

He said the sharp reduction of children going to state custody in 
meth cases "does surprise me." Farmer said the law "didn't all of a 
sudden reduce the number of meth addicts we have out there by 45 percent."

Ronald Mullins, the national drug endangered children's training 
coordinator in San Diego, said there is a "national trend in 
reduction of drug labs, but we need to be cautious. Meth addiction is 
as high as it has ever been. Meth usage is as high as ever."

While the number of children exposed to homemade meth labs is down, 
the drug is increasingly being supplied by traffickers from Mexico, 
Mullins said.

"What I hear from the streets is that the Mexican cartels just 
stepped up their operations. There is still a demand for the drug and 
they still have the ability to supply it in kilo amounts."

Mullins said child abuse and neglect by meth-addicted parents remains 
a major problem.

All states bordering Tennessee have laws that either restrict access 
or quantities of pseudoephedrine sold. About 40 states have laws that 
restrict such sales.

Teresa Barton, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control 
Policy, said records for the six months since that state restricted 
sales of pseudoephedrine products show a 70 percent drop in meth labs 
and a 62 percent reduction in the number of children involved.

"Even though we are not happy that the trend is changing toward the 
ice and crystal, the upside is there won't be as many cookers," 
Barton said. "Hopefully if we can get a handle on the addicts we 
currently have, the price could be a deterrent."

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