Academic journal article Social Work

Methamphetamine Abuse and Manufacture: The Child Welfare Response

Academic journal article Social Work

Methamphetamine Abuse and Manufacture: The Child Welfare Response

Article excerpt

Methamphetamine abuse is on the increase, particularly by females of childbearing age. In California from 1992 to 1998, methamphetamine as a primary drug rose from 11.2 percent to 22.4 percent of all alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment admissions for females, and from 6.8 percent to 13.5 percent for males (Hohman & Clapp, 1999). Initially limited to western states and Hawaii, research suggests that methamphetamine abuse and its clandestine manufacture is spreading to the southern, northwestern, and midwestern United States (Greenblatt & Gfroerer, 1997; U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1997). Once a drug primarily used by white males, methamphetamine use is increasing among Hispanics and Asian Americans, and among gay males (Hohman & Clapp; Maglione, Chao, & Anglin, 1998; Reback & Grella, 1999).

In addition to having an effect on the AOD treatment system, methamphetamine use and the problems associated with its manufacture affect the child welfare system. In a recent study of mothers entering San Diego County's AOD treatment system (N = 6,023), 60 percent of those active with child protective services (CPS) described methamphetamine as their primary drug of abuse (Shillington, Hohman, & Jones, 2002). Many of these parents manufactured methamphetamine in their homes; the directions can be obtained from the Internet, and the chemicals used are fairly easy and inexpensive to obtain (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment [CSAT], 1997). Such manufacturing places children at risk of environmental exposure to dangerous chemicals, toxic fumes, and possibly explosions (Irvine & Chin, 1997). >From 1997 to 1999, 472 children in California were found in 176 homes during methamphetamine laboratory seizures and were removed by child welfare officials. More than one-third of these children tested positive for illicit drugs because of environmental exposure. Of these children, 386 had dependency petitions filed and sustained in juvenile court (Drug Endangered Children's Resource Center, 2000).

This article describes how the use and production of methamphetamine affects adults and children. We also discuss the drug-endangered children's (DEC) program, a pilot program that integrates child welfare, legal, medical, and law enforcement personnel regarding methamphetamine-exposed children (DEC Resource Center, 2000). A case study of children found at a home during a methamphetamine laboratory seizure demonstrates how a DEC unit operates, with particular emphasis on the role of the child welfare worker. As the use and production of methamphetamine spread, such programs may be important for social workers, particularly those involved with child protection.

History of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, or crystal, crank, or speed, is a synthetic stimulant that can be smoked, inhaled, or injected. The drug is commonly sold as a white powder that is dissolvable in water but can also be produced in rock form (CSAT, 1997). It was first produced in the 1930s to treat asthma, schizophrenia, and narcolepsy, among other conditions (Miller, 1997). During World War II, Americans, Japanese, Germans, and British used methamphetamine to fight fatigue in soldiers. By the 1950s, students and truck drivers used the drug to stay awake (CSAT, 1999; Miller; Suwaki, Fukui, & Konuma, 1997). Initially thought to be a relatively benign drug, problems from its use in the 1960s and 1970s led to federal legislation that severely restricted legal production, which caused an increase in illegal methamphetamine production laboratories. Most of these laboratories were in the rural western and southwestern United States, because the chemicals used in methamphetamine's production (precursors)--ephedrine and pseudoephedrine--were easy to obtain in Mexico. Such laboratories were located in rural areas to avoid detection of the powerful fumes emitted during the manufacturing or "cooking" process. …

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