Children of Meth: Kids test positive for drug after just being in a home where it was used
By Geoff Belcher
May 16, 2014, 19:28
Hancock County has the third-highest number of children in foster care in the state of Mississippi – 414, as of Thursday, just behind the much-larger Hines and Harrison counties – but the problem is even worse than anybody feared, Hancock Youth Court Judge Elise Deano said this week.
Deano said she recently began ordering tests for children taken from homes where the parents or guardians were arrested for methamphetamine possession or trafficking and made a startling discovery – nearly all of the children tested positive for meth.
"Some of them are at obscenely high levels," Deano said, "higher than adults who use meth on a regular basis."
Results from the first round of testing came back this week, Deano said, and out of 31 children tested, 29 had methamphetamine in their systems.
It isn't that the children are using the substance themselves, she said – the meth residue in their homes is getting into their blood streams.
"If the parents smoke it or cook it, even if the kids aren't in the home at the time, when they get back home, the residue is on every flat surface in the house," Deano said. "They get it on their hands, they get it in their mouths. ... I feel like these kids are going to forever have developmental problems and further, have addiction issues. ... A lot of times, these are very young children. They're being stymied at a very important time of their lives, as far as brain development."
"I would like to believe that if parents knew this, they would not do meth in the home or around their kids."
The meth epidemic and resulting child foster care crisis has been growing steadily in Hancock County since shortly after Hurricane Katrina, according to Terry Latham, executive director of Hope Haven Children's Services.
Latham has long been an advocate for bringing more community resources to bear on the problem.
"Hancock County is a different county than it used to be in the wake of Katrina, the oil spill and the economic meltdown," Latham said in a letter to the Hancock County Resource Agency's community improvement committee. "The demographics are different. The housing picture is different. True unemployment is near 20 percent as 'official' figures do not count those who are no longer actively seeking work via the State services. The percentage of people in our County who are living on minimum wages and or are working less than full time is very high. The tax credit housing, influx of single parents, underemployed/unemployed and individuals who rely up SSI/SSDI have all upset our “applecart”. We all can see what has happened and these changes have had a dramatic and terrible effect in my sphere of work that is unfortunately not fully appreciated by many due to the nature of the problem.
Latham estimates the crisis costs Hancock County more than $7,675,000 per year.
That figure includes $2.2 million per year for the Department of Human Services buildings, staff, utilities and expenses; $475,000 for youth court; $500,000 per year for law enforcement; $4 million per year for foster care training and placement; and $500,000 per year for medical, dental and psychological services for the affected children.
While we're throwing money at the problem, Latham said, we aren't doing anything to actually stop it.
"No direct monies from any state or county sources are spent on any prevention programs or on any program to address this cancer," Latham said. "Our county leaders need to recognize the value of funding agencies and programs that work in this field."
At the very least, Deano said, she hopes that meth users or makers with children care enough to keep it away from their children. They also need to be aware that meth itself is contributing to the sharp spike in child neglect and sexual abuse.
The substance sharply increases dopamine levels, which stimulate the libido while reducing inhibitions and good decision-making skills.
Even if you aren't actively abusing your child while using meth, she said, "if someone is 'tweaking' for three or four days, then crashing for three or four days, they're not taking care of their children – they're zombies.
"I think the public needs to be aware of what's happening to our babies," she said.
"It's completely and totally unfair to these children. And it's criminal."