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Cheeta Sanders’ youngest grandson didn’t start walking until he was 14 months old — a delay that she suspects was caused by exposure to methamphetamine in the womb.

Sanders and her daughter, Amanda Mickler, who is the boy’s aunt, believe it affected his speech development, too.

The 18-month-old boy and his 6-month-old sister are among the youth who have been deemed a Child in Need of Services in Tippecanoe Superior Court 3, the county’s juvenile court, due to parental substance abuse.

It’s an issue that Judge Loretta Rush has worried about for several months. Local cases have included children testing positive for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.

“Sometimes it’s residual, being exposed to the powder. Toddlers are so tactical that they may touch it, then put it in their mouth,” Rush said. “Sometimes it comes from the mother nursing.”

Angela Smith Grossman, director of the Indiana Department of Child Services’ Tippecanoe County office, said nearly 40 percent of all cases from Jan. 1 to May 31 of this year began with drugs.

That number does not include cases that may have begun with police responding to a domestic violence call, for instance, and drugs were then found in the home.

Smith Grossman said what’s most bothersome is the age of the affected children.

“It’s very young children who are being impacted the most,” she said. “Fifty percent of the children removed from their home because of drugs are under age 3.”

Methamphetamine, marijuana and prescription drug abuse each account for about 20 percent of all cases, Smith Grossman said. But cocaine, which represented 26 percent of all drug cases in 2010, was at 17 percent through May 31 this year.

“These are any drug cases — where a child tested positive or where a parent admitted to using,” Smith Grossman said.

According to Rush, nationwide, 15 percent of babies have been drug-exposed. She based that on statistics presented by Sidney Gardner, president of Children and Family Futures.

Gardner gave a presentation during an Indiana Juvenile Court Judicial Officers conference on June 23.

Rush said the last available statistic of drug-exposed babies for Tippecanoe County was 25 percent at Home Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit four years ago.

An updated number is not available because the state withdrew funding to screen babies who meet the criteria for suspected drug exposure, said Dr. Rosario Chua, a neonatologist and medical director of the NICU now at St. Elizabeth East.

Chua said St. Elizabeth will still screen expecting mothers’ urine and sends stool samples of newborns for state testing. But those results typically go to the baby’s pediatrician, rather than St. Elizabeth.

But babies whom the hospital staff suspect have been exposed are treated for detoxification.

“If the mother has a strong history of chronic use or high dosage use, I generally prefer admission to the neonatal ICU to watch for withdrawal symptoms,” Chua said. “They’re not always immediate but likely three to seven days later: jitteryness, sweating, decreased appetite … fast heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea.”

The NICU also uses a scoring system to determine whether a counter-drug is necessary — for instance, methadone or morphine for a newborn who tested positive for heroin.

There is no medication, however, for a baby exposed to methamphetamine in the womb.

Chua said meth is one of the worst substances for newborns. It can slow brain growth and cause small head size, even blindness, she said. Chua has witnessed newborns suffer from seizures because of meth.

But the long-term effect of any drug may not be truly noticeable until a child reaches school age and his or her development can be compared to peers, she said.

http://www.jconline.com/article/20110705/NEWS/107050328/Drug-use-homes-impacts-young-children-most

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