Franklin County children are the youngest victims of the meth epidemic spreading across the region.
According to a study conducted by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office, the state ranks first in the nation in meth lab incidents. Studies show 2,157 reported methamphetamine lab incidents in Tennessee in 2010 with 70 those in Franklin County.
Winchester Police Chief Dennis Young reports a 10 percent of children in foster care within the state of Tennessee are from Franklin County.
“I’m tired of picking these babies up and seeing them cry because we’re taking them away from their homes,” Young said. “Franklin, Lincoln and Coffee counties are ground zero for meth in the state.”
An earlier report by the Government Accountability Office showed the number of “clandestine” meth incidents more than doubled in 2010 to some 15,000, after an all-time low of about 7,000 in 2009.
Reports of neglect, burns, and poisoning are not uncommon for children of meth addicted parents and caretakers.
In June, a Kentucky man and woman were arrested after the woman’s two-year-old child drank liquid fire, an ingredient used to make meth.
Two-year-old Frankee Arroyo was rushed to the hospital after swallowing drain cleaner in a glass in her mother’s boyfriend’s car. Frankee’s throat and stomach were severely burned by the sulphuric acid, she was in a coma for over a month. This little girl is just one of the most recent victims of the meth epidemic plaguing this country.
In Bradley County a jury found 27-yearold Tasha Bates guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated child neglect, in the deaths of her children, 3-year-old River and 5-yea-old Leland.
Prosecution states that the boys died after being left in a vehicle on a hot June day in 2012. Temperatures in the car are believed to have reached 129 degrees.
In his opening statement Stephen Hatchett said: “You will find the boys did die in that care. Died of hypothermia, Died of neglect that was brought on by meth.”
The jury deliberated for only few hours before returning the guilty verdict against Bates last week.
The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Victims of Crime reports, a child living at a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory is exposed to immediate dangers and to the ongoing effects of chemical contamination.
In addition, the child may be subjected to fires and explosions, abuse and neglect, a hazardous lifestyle (including the presence of firearms), social problems, and other risks.
The chemicals used to cook meth and the toxic compounds and byproducts resulting from its manufacture produce toxic fumes, vapors, and spills.
A child living at a meth lab may inhale or swallow toxic substances or inhale the secondhand smoke of adults who are using meth; receive an injection or an accidental skin prick from discarded needles or other drug paraphernalia; absorb methamphetamine and other toxic substances through the skin following contact with contaminated surfaces, clothing, or food; or become ill after directly ingesting chemicals or an intermediate product.
Exposure to low levels of some meth ingredients may produce headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. Exposure to high levels can produce shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, dizziness, lack of coordination, eye and tissue irritation, chemical burns (to the skin, eyes, mouth, and nose), and death.
Corrosive substances may cause injury through inhalation or contact with the skin. Solvents can irritate the skin, mucous membranes, and respiratory tract and affect the central nervous system.
Chronic exposure to the chemicals typically used in meth manufacture may cause cancer; damage the brain, liver, kidney, spleen, and immunologic system; and result in birth defects.
Normal cleaning will not remove methamphetamine and some of the chemicals used to produce it. They may remain on eating and cooking utensils, floors, countertops, and absorbent materials. Toxic byproducts of meth manufacturing are often improperly disposed outdoors, endangering children and others who live, eat, play, or walk at or near the site.
Fires and explosions:
About 15 percent of meth labs are discovered as a result of a fire or explosion.
Careless handling and overheating of highly volatile hazardous chemicals and waste and unsafe manufacturing methods cause solvents and other materials to burst into flames or explode.
Improperly labeled and incompatible chemicals are often stored together, compounding the likelihood of fire and explosion.
Highly combustible materials left on stovetops, near ignition sources, or on surfaces accessible to children can be easily ignited by a single spark or cigarette ember.
Hydrogenerators used in illegal drug production constitute bombs waiting to be ignited by a careless act.
Safety equipment is typically nonexistent or inadequate to protect a child.
Abuse and neglect:
Children living at methamphetamine laboratories are at increased risk for severe neglect and are more likely to be physically and sexually abused by members of their own family and known individuals at the site.
Parents and caregivers who are meth dependent typically become careless, irritable, and violent, often losing their capacity to nurture their children.
In these situations, the failure of parents to protect their children’s safety and to provide for essential food, dental and medical care (including immunizations, proper hygiene, and grooming), and appropriate sleeping conditions is the norm.
Older siblings in these homes often assume the role of caretaker.
Some addicted parents fall into a deep sleep for days and cannot be awakened, further increasing the likelihood that their children will be exposed to toxic chemicals in their environment and to abusive acts committed by the other drug-using individuals who are present.
Children living at meth lab sites may experience the added trauma of witnessing violence, being forced to participate in violence, caring for an incapacitated or injured parent or sibling, or watching the police arrest and remove a parent.10
Hazardous living conditions and filth are common in meth lab homes. Explosives and booby traps (including trip wires, hidden sticks with nails or spikes, and light switches or electrical appliances wired to explosive devices) have been found at some meth lab sites.
Loaded guns and other weapons are usually present and often found in easy-to-reach locations. Code violations and substandard housing structures may also endanger children.
They may be shocked or electrocuted by exposed wires or as a result of unsafe electrical equipment or practices.
Poor ventilation, sometimes the result of windows sealed or covered with aluminum foil to prevent telltale odors from escaping, increases the possibility of combustion and the dangers of inhaling toxic fumes.
Meth homes also often lack heating, cooling, legally provided electricity, running water, or refrigeration. Living and play areas may be infested with rodents and insects, including cockroaches, fleas, ticks, and lice.
Individuals responding to some lab sites have found hazardous waste products and rotten food on the ground, used needles and condoms strewn about, and dirty clothes, dishes, and garbage piled on floors and countertops.
Toilets and bathtubs may be backed up or unusable, sometimes because the cook has dumped corrosive byproducts into the plumbing.11 (See Children Found in Meth Lab Homes.)
The inability of meth-dependent and meth-manufacturing parents to function as competent caregivers increases the likelihood that a child will be accidentally injured or will ingest drugs and poisonous substances.
Baby bottles may be stored among toxic chemicals. Hazardous meth components may be stored in 2-liter soft drink bottles, fruit juice bottles, and pitchers in food preparation areas or the refrigerator.
Ashtrays and drug paraphernalia (such as razor blades, syringes, and pipes) are often found scattered within a child’s reach, sometimes even in cribs. Infants are found with meth powder on their clothes, bare feet, and toys.
The health hazards in meth homes from unhygienic conditions, needle sharing, and unprotected sexual activity may include hepatitis A and C, E. coli, syphilis, and HIV.
Children developing within the chaos, neglect, and violence of a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory environment experience stress and trauma that significantly affect their overall safety and health, including their behavioral, emotional, and cognitive functioning. They often exhibit low selfesteem, a sense of shame, and poor social skills.
Consequences may include emotional and mental health problems, delinquency, teen pregnancy, school absenteeism and failure, isolation, and poor peer relations.
Without effective intervention, many will imitate their parents and caretakers when they themselves become adults, engaging in criminal or violent behavior, inappropriate conduct, and alcohol and drug abuse.
Many children who live in drug homes exhibit an attachment disorder, which occurs when parents or caretakers fail to respond to an infant’s basic needs or do so unpredictably.
These children typically do not cry or show emotion when separated from their parents. Symptoms of attachment disorder include the inability to trust, form relationships, and adapt.
Attachment disorders place children at greater risk for later criminal behavior and substance abuse. To minimize long-term damage, children from these environments require mental health interventions and stable, nurturing caregivers.
Dangerous animals trained to protect illegal meth labs pose added physical hazards, and their feces contribute to the filth in areas where children play, sleep, and eat. Many children who live in meth homes also are exposed to pornographic materials or overt sexual activity.
Others may actually be involved in the manufacturing process but receive no safety gear to protect them from noxious chemical fumes.
Children found in meth lab homes
The living areas and physical condition of children found in two meth lab homes described below was provided by the Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning, Multi-Agency Partnerships: Linking Drugs with Child Endangerment, Sacramento, CA.
The five children ranged in age from 1 to 7 years old. The one-bedroom home had no electricity or heat other than a gas stove with the oven door opened.
Used hypodermic needles and dog feces littered areas of the residence where the children were found playing. Because there were no beds for the children, they slept with blankets underneath a small card table in the front room.
The bathroom had sewage backed up in the tub, leaving no place for the children to bathe. A subsequent hospital exam revealed that all the children were infected with hepatitis C.
The youngest was very ill. His liver was enlarged to the size of an adult’s. The children had needle marks on their feet, legs, hands, and arms from accidental contact with syringes.
At another lab site, a 2-year-old child was discovered during a lab seizure. Her parents both abused and manufactured methamphetamine. She was found with open, seeping sores around her eyes and on her forehead that resembled a severe burn. The condition was diagnosed as repeated, untreated cockroach bites.
Local municipalities fight back
In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, 722 children were placed in Department of Children’s Services custody for methamphetamine related issues at an estimated cost of $19.6 million. The cost range to clean a home of the toxins is between $5,000 and $25,000, according to the Tennessee State Comptroller’s report.
In an effort to combat the meth epidemic several municipalities in the state have enacted meth ordinances requiring a prescription for the purchase of products containing Pseudoephedrine, the primary ingredient in the product of the meth.
“Someone has to stand up and be a voice for the innocent children and the leaders of these cities are standing up,” Young said. “I have been humbled by the compassion and courage of communities citizens across this state and am truly honored to be from Franklin County, the first county in the state to take a stand.”
The Stop Meth Now initiative began in Franklin County as a joint effort between law enforcement and the Franklin County Prevention Coalition.
The idea took root as every city in the county adopted the ordinance. Word of the initiative quickly spread to other cities across the state.
More than 14 cities in the state have adopted similar ordinances and several others are in the works.