In some states, authorities say that in 90 percent of at-home drug lab busts, neglected, sick and abused children are taken from their meth-addicted parents and families, their sippy cups and snacks sitting dangerously close to chemicals like liquid drain cleaner and lithium batteries used in the production of the highly dangerous and addictive street drug.
Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office revealed that the number of clandestine meth incidents more than doubled in 2010 to 15,000 after a record low of about 7,000. Last year, more than 11,000 incidents were reported.
In Missouri – the state which the contains the country’s second-highest number of domestic meth lab incidents – the Department of Social Services spent $3.4 million since 2005 on custodial care for children of addicts.
But the country’s number one meth capital is still Tennessee, where in just five years, 1,625 children of addicts were taken into custody.
“Children are dragged into this unwillingly. Law enforcement sees the lab problem as having the greatest impact on children,” Carol Cha, the GAO’s acting director of Homeland Security and Justice, told the New York Daily News.
Two-year-old Frankee Arroyo was rushed to the hospital last month after accidentally swallowing drain cleaner in a glass in her mother’s boyfriend’s car. Her throat and stomach were burned by the sulphuric acid, and the girl remained in a coma for over a month.
Frankee Arroyo is just one of many victims of meth-addicted parents who fell victim to harm as a result of abuse and negligence. Seventeen-month old Patrick Nicholas Lerch was found unresponsive in a meth house in Ohio last year, later pronounced dead at the hospital from methamphetamine intoxication due to the inhalation of the drug’s potent chemicals.
In February, Jonathan Wayne Glass and Victoria Lauren were arrested in Florida after their child drank drain cleaner from a sippy cup left in the bathroom of their home. A 20-month old Kentucky child died after a similar encounter with Liquid Fire, accidentally drinking the poison from a cup left on the bedroom table.
One of the most gruesome of such cases even sparked a child abuse law known as Haley’s Law, after 3-year old Haley Spicer from Tennessee was found beaten and burned by cigarettes and chemicals in 2004 at the home where her father and his girlfriend used meth. Haley’s Law increased the severity of charges for certain abuse and negligent cases in the state.
In addition to battery acid and drain cleaners, over-the-counter allergy medicine like Sudafed, which contains the stimulant pseudoephedrine, critical in the production of meth, are used in at-home labs. Sudafed is easily available to users despite federal restrictions on the product beginning in 2007. Other household items like cold packs are also often used in manufacturing.
Though hundreds of children have been removed from such homes, there are still many more in crisis, and the process isn’t always so easy for officials.
“We had one case where the parent was on meth and kept doing, doing and doing. When the kids came into court, they asked to eat. They described the method for making (meth) and talked about watching their mother suck it up with a straw,” Missouri’s Monroe County Juvenile Court Judge Reed Dixon told the New York Daily News. “We’ve had parents who have gone through the process and got the child back. That’s a pretty long path to follow. It can take as long as six months to a year.”