Many of them are already lost to the powerful and tragic effects of drug addiction.
New pictures released by an American police force show the horrific effects of methamphetamine abuse.
Shocking: New pictures released by an American police force show the horrific effects of methamphetamine use over a number of years
Preventative: The Multnomah County Sheriff department in Oregon, U.S., has released the images in the hope that it will make children think twice before ever touching the lethal drug
Over just a matter of months – and in some cases weeks – eyes become sunken, skin becomes paler and blotchy marks appear.
Most tragic of all is the look of sadness and despair on the ruined faces of those whose lives have been wrecked by the drug.
The department has run a series of hard-hitting campaigns over the past decade as it attempts to cope with an endemic drug problem in the north west of the U.S.
The police force was instrumental in putting together the controversial 2004 ‘Faces of Meth’ campaign which was shown around the world.
Last year, the force also released a series of images called ‘From Drugs to Mugs’ .
They showed the first arrest of a drug user together with a picture taken just months later.
Government data suggests more than 10million Americans have used meth, with around one per cent of users being pregnant women.
Harmful: The drug initially creates feelings of euphoria and invincibility, but experts say repeated abuse can alter brain chemistry and sometimes cause schizophrenia-like behaviour
Social problems: The drug is the top contributor to violent crimes and thefts in many towns and cities
Meth is known for being highly addictive. The drug increases alertness, concentration, energy, and in high doses, can induce euphoria, enhance self-esteem and increase libido.
Its use has a strong association with depression and suicide as well as heart disease, psychosis, violent behaviour and anxiety.
Users of the drug are known to lose their teeth very quickly – known as meth mouth.
Methamphetamine originally took root in California’s agricultural heartland in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a poor man’s cocaine.
Affected: Scientists also recently revealed that children whose mothers use crystal meth during pregnancy will be more prone to anxiety, depression and moodiness in later life
By the 1990s, new versions of the drug were reported to be six times stronger then previously.
By 2000, in much of the Western U.S and inland northwest, meth was the favoured hard drug for users.
States like Montana, South Dakota, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona have all been heavily affected by the drug use.
The drug initially creates feelings of euphoria and invincibility, but experts say repeated abuse can alter brain chemistry and sometimes cause schizophrenia-like behaviour.
Meth’s availability and its potential for abuse combine to create the biggest drug threat in the Central Valley, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Intelligence Center.
Most law enforcement agencies don’t keep statistics on how many homicides, burglaries and thefts are meth-related, but those responding to the National Drug Intelligence Center’s 2011 survey said the drug is the top contributor to violent crimes and thefts.
‘It drives more crime than other drugs do. Meth is in its own category, because it’s so much more addictive than other drugs,’ said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.
Scientists also recently revealed that children whose mothers use crystal meth during pregnancy will be more prone to anxiety, depression and moodiness in later life.
So-called ‘meth babies’ are also more likely to weigh much less when they are born and suffer from drowsiness and stress in their formative years.
Researcher Linda La Gasse said the combination meant they were at higher risk of developing serious behavioural problems than other children.
But while there was certain similarities to ‘crack babies’, whose mothers consumed crack cocaine while pregnant, ‘meth babies’ could be in greater danger.
This was because, she said, meth has a strong effect on the brain and is therefore more likely to have longer-lasting effects in children.
The first study to look at methamphetamine’s potential effects was conducted by Brown University’s Centre of the Study of Children at Risk.
Government data suggests there are 100,000 pregnant women snorting, swallowing or injecting the highly addictive euphoria-inducing drug across the U.S.
Joseph Frascella, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s behavioural division, said the research was ‘groundbreaking’.
But because the study is a first, the results should be viewed cautiously and need to be repeated, he said.
A total of 330 children, from aged three to five, were tracked in the Midwest and West, areas where meth use is most common.
Mothers were recruited shortly after giving birth in Des Moines, Iowa; Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
They were asked about prenatal meth use and newborns’ stools were tested for evidence of the drug.
Effects in children exposed to the drug were compared with those whose mothers did not use meth.
Both groups were high-risk children, with many living in disadvantaged homes.
Mothers or other caregivers completed a widely used checklist asking how often children showed many kinds of troublesome behaviour.
At three-years-old cores for anxiety, depression and moodiness were slightly higher in meth-users’ children.
These differences persisted at age five.
The older children who had been exposed to meth also had more aggression and attention problems similar to ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Mothers were asked about symptoms, but not if their children had ever been diagnosed with behaviour disorders.
More than half of the mothers who had used meth during pregnancy also used it afterwards. These women also were more likely to use other drugs during and after pregnancy and to be single mothers.
But the researchers said accounting for those differences and others in the two groups’ family lives did not change the results.