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Chapter IX: Drug Endangered Children

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I. Introduction

North Carolina is being confronted with problems unmatched by other illegal drugs in the past. While there are other drugs that are produced in clandestine laboratories, this section refers to methamphetamine laboratories only. Methamphetamine is inexpensive and easy to make and the ingredients are easy to obtain. The chemicals, production process and the waste generated by the production of methamphetamine in clandestine labs pose very serious dangers to public safety and the environment. Some of these dangers are toxic poisoning, chemical and thermal burns, fires and explosions. One pound of methamphetamine produces six pounds of toxic waste and this waste is being introduced into the environment by burning or dumping.

The number of methamphetamine laboratories discovered in North Carolina has continued to increase yearly. While the majority of the methamphetamine laboratories have been located in the western part of the state, there has been a gradual progression across the state. There were 9 confirmed methamphetamine laboratories in North Carolina in 1999. That number rose to 16 in 2000, 34 in 2001, 98 in 2002 and 177 in 2003. As of September 15, 2004 there have been 277 methamphetamine laboratories confirmed in North Carolina. Not only have the number of confirmed laboratories continued to grow each year, North Carolina is also seeing an increase in the size of the laboratories. “”Super labs” are laboratories that produce ten pounds of methamphetamine at a time.1

Children were found in approximately 25 percent of these laboratories. The children who live in and around methamphetamine laboratories have a high risk of harm due to their developmental nature, the abuse and neglect that their parents/caretakers and others that frequent the home inflict on them and their inability to protect themselves. The children in these homes are also exposed to serious toxicities and dangers that could have long term effects on their health and development. These effects have not yet been well-studied.

Representatives from several county and State agencies have come together as a work group to address the issues of methamphetamine laboratories and safety for the children and the professionals that respond to these sites. The Division of Social Services has taken the lead in writing policy and protocol with the help of this work group. The Division of Social Services took the lead because the number of children found in methamphetamine laboratories has increased. Because of the safety risks to children and county Departments of Social Services staff in responding to these situations, it is imperative that guidelines and procedures for responding are in place. It is also very important that everyone has clear role definitions in regards to responding to a methamphetamine laboratory site that involves children. The North Carolina General Assembly appropriated funding for Child Protective Services policy development and training for county Child Protective Services social workers. Because of the seriousness of the situation the General Assembly also passed House Bill 1510 and House Bill 1536 that gives stiffer penalties for possession of precursor substances and manufacturing methamphetamine in the presence of a person under the age of 18.

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1 North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation