Meth side effects: incapacitated parents, neglected children

Published: Monday, Jan. 20 2003 8:58 a.m. MST

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. — The physical withdrawal from methamphetamine wasn't so bad. It was knowing what she had done to her children, then ages 7 and 10, that made Teresa Cannon cringe in her jail cell.

"I forgot about my kids," Cannon says of the four years she spent cooking and smoking meth while her children fended for themselves. "Looking back at the way they had been treated, you hate yourself. I was so ashamed. So ashamed."

When Cannon went to jail, her children, now ages 9 and 12, lived with her sister-in-law. Now they're back with their mother.

But others aren't so lucky.

Authorities have seen foster-care cases multiply because of the spread of methamphetamine in Kentucky, Indiana and other rural states in recent years.

With meth, "the parents are the users and the children are basically the innocent victims," said Larry Marchino, director of the Knox County Office of Family and Children in southern Indiana.

Marchino estimates about half the children on the rural farming county's roster of foster kids are there because their parents used, made or sold meth — a drug that is often snorted for its rush of euphoria and energy.

It is the counties with the highest unemployment rates and fewest resources that appear to be most affected, said Glenn Cardwell, director of the Vigo County Office of Family and Children in southern Indiana.

Nearly 40 of Vigo County's 180 foster children have parents involved with the drug, costing the county about $150,000 annually. Foster care costs from $16 to $20 per day, depending on the age of the child.

"Our frustration is that it is taking up a lot of resources that we really don't have," Cardwell said. "We don't have the budget to deal with it. If we deal with additional kids here that means we're shorting kids somewhere else."

Nationally, the Drug Enforcement Administration reports that children are nearby as the drug is made 20 percent of the time.

Earlier this month, an eastern Kentucky man was arrested on child endangerment and drug charges after a working meth lab was allegedly found in his car — along with a child.

Because of the danger of the household chemicals and the fertilizer anhydrous ammonia — both commonly used in the production of the drug — children can be more at risk than with most other drugs since it is often made at home.

In 2001, a 15-month-old boy died in Rossville, Ga., of injuries suffered from a meth lab explosion when a space heater was turned on, authorities said. His parents were charged in the death.

Jackie Hofmann, a family case manager in Vigo County, said she has counseled scared children whose parents were injured in a meth lab explosion.

"We get more and more reports every day," Hofmann said.

Parents high on the drug are beyond considering logical problems that may result from their children being around the drug, authorities say.

"When someone's addicted to a drug it becomes the most important thing in their life," said Cheyenne Albro, director of the Pennyrile Drug Task Force in western Kentucky. "It takes precedence over sex, their family and jobs, morals, beliefs, and it changes their entire life."

Cannon met Albro when he kicked down her door one night and arrested her husband. After serving 5 1/2 months in jail, she now assists the Hopkinsville-based drug task force in training law enforcement about the meth-cooking culture.

"You'd sell your soul, and I guess you do, really. God. Family. No one matters," Cannon said, describing what a person feels on meth.

Cannon said she justified her drug cooking by saying it was to provide for her children after her husband started serving a 10-year sentence on drug charges.

"But it wasn't for anybody but me and my habit," Cannon said.

The side-effects of methamphetamine use can reduce abusers' ability to be good parents, Marchino said.

"They're very easily excitable. They can become paranoid on the drug," Marchino said. "Then when they come down from their meth high they can crash out for several hours at a time and basically they're completely out of it."

In Kentucky, police try to call child protection officials before a drug bust, said Joseph Abel, an official with the seven-county Green River Region of Kentucky's Cabinet for Families and Children.

A parent's arrest is "extremely traumatic. Unfortunately, sometimes it can't be handled as sensitively as we like because of the situation," Abel said. "If you have police officers getting ready to arrest the parent, we have to be there in terms of the aftermath."

Child protection officials say they try to place children taken from their homes with a relative, but if none is available a child will go into foster care.

Cannon cries each time she recalls the day she made pancakes for her son after getting out of jail.

"He says, you're a real mommy now," Cannon said.

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