The reported number of children present at seized methamphetamine labs across the United States has increased dramatically, from 950 in 1999 to approximately 3,000 in 2004 (El Paso Intelligence Center [EPIC] National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System, 2004). These figures are recognized as underreported because many states do not keep records on the children who are present when methamphetamine labs are seized or who are medically evaluated for the presence of drugs or chemicals (EPIC National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System, 2003). Increased methamphetamine use and home-based production have further resulted in an escalation in reports of serious child abuse and neglect. Children living in settings of methamphetamine labs are at extremely high risk of a wide range of serious negative consequences including poisoning, homicides, and accidental deaths and burns due to home-based methamphetamine lab fires and explosions.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive psychoactive stimulant that produces an intensely euphoric high, followed by a “crash” that causes depression, irritability, insomnia, nervousness, and paranoid aggressive behaviors (Office of National Drug Control Policies [ONDCP], 1999) - all of which present a risk of serious neglect and abuse to the children of methamphetamine-dependent parents. Children who live in home-based methamphetamine labs are not only exposed to their parents' chaotic and drug-focused lifestyles, but also to the highly psychoactive stimulant and the toxic precursor chemicals associated with methamphetamine production. In fact, approximately 55% of children removed from home-based methamphetamine labs test positive for toxic levels of chemicals in their bodies (EPIC National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System, 2003).
Clearly, the combination of exposure to the toxic effects of the drug itself and to the aberrant behavior of the adult methamphetamine users puts children living in these settings in a uniquely dangerous and damaging environment. However, no empirical studies to date have measured the impact of this circumstance. Thus, the medical, developmental, and placement outcomes of these children remain unknown. The fields of pediatrics, criminal justice, law enforcement, and child welfare could all benefit from comprehensive documentation of the needs and outcomes of this special population of children. Research in this area could further guide policy decisions regarding communities, families, children, treatment, and adoption guidelines affected by the growing epidemic of home-based methamphetamine labs.
This comment will provide important information on methamphetamine use and manufacture, the direct and indirect effects the drug and its manufacture has on children, and a description of a pilot program started in California to serve the needs of children rescued from methamphetamine labs. The spread of the methamphetamine epidemic across the United States has led many states to develop and operate similar programs for children. As methamphetamine becomes a major problem worldwide, the need to develop specialized services for children impacted by methamphetamine may become necessary.