Addicts not the only one to suffer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Even those who have never tried meth and wouldn't dream of using it are paying a price for the meth epidemic.

Law enforcement and family services say the drug affects the community at large in many ways.

Costs of cleaning up

A meth lab is an extremely toxic environment. For every pound of meth made, five to six pounds of toxic waste is created that can poison the area where it is dumped. The noxious fumes from meth cooking can sicken the people, pets and plants around it.

&#8220It's a very big concern from a public safety and health standpoint,” Mike Coppage, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety, said.

The residue from meth manufacturing is absorbed into the carpets, clothing, drapes, furniture, and even ceilings, walls and floors of houses. The unseen residuals can cause severe respiratory infections and skin and eye problems.

Depending on how bad the contamination is, it can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 and up, to decontaminate a dwelling. And taxpayers are footing the bill.

No one is sure what the long-term effects of toxins leaching into the soil and water supply will be, and there is no consensus on the best way to handle the drug's toxic byproducts.

In some Midwestern states where meth has been prevalent for a long time, it's reported foresters are seeing 150-year-old trees dying from the fumes of meth &#8220cooking.”

Anyone who comes in contact with a batch of meth as it cooks is potentially in danger, including law enforcement personnel, DHR workers, fire fighters and anyone else that might ingest the toxic fumes. That includes the children living in homes where meth is being made.

The youngest victims

The children of meth addicts and manufacturers often end up the victims of their parents' vice.

&#8220I have realized for some time that meth labs are becoming a huge problem in our communities. Children may be at risk for abuse as well as secondary addictions and effects from breathing toxic fumes,” Carolyn Spencer, a certified play therapist in Montgomery, who works with children at Safe Harbor in Greenville, said.

&#8220In addition, there are dangers of explosions as well as neglect by parents who are addicted.”

Youngsters can end up malnourished, their health and wellbeing ignored as their parents stay busy cooking meth, scoring fixes and &#8220crashing.”

Living in a home where meth is manufactured, it is all too easy for curious children to touch and taste chemicals and to inhale poisonous fumes.

Children in a community where meth is being made may play in polluted areas where the toxic wastes are dumped, unaware of the danger.

Signs of progress

There are some signs the state is making headway in the war against meth.

Last May, the Alabama Legislature passed a law making meth production more difficult by prohibiting large purchases of ephedrine or pseudophedrine, commonly used in meth production.

The law mandates certain decongestants be kept behind the counter or in locked cases in stores. Customers, who are limited to purchasing two boxes at a time, are required to show a photo ID and sign a register to keep track of their purchases.

Gel and liquid forms of pseudophedrine are still available on shelves as OTC medications because they cannot be used to make meth.

Kim Stinson, manager of CVS Pharmacy in Greenville, says once the law is explained to them, most people are understanding about the restrictions.

&#8220The main thing I have heard since we enacted the policy, was, ‘Why?' After you tell them why the law was made, they have no problem with it.”

Since the law was put into effect, there has been a drop in the number of reported meth labs in the state, from 297 in 2004 to 249 in 2005.

In December 2005, as part of the Patriot Act, the U.S. House passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. The law follows Alabama's lead in limiting access to pseudophedrine nationwide while toughening penalties for meth-related offenses. The new law channels $495 million to the states over a five-year period and provides states $40 million to assist children living with meth-abusing families.

There are also steps being taken to make meth lab cleanups a safer task.

As a result of a federal grant, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation has formed the Methamphetamine Investigation Program, with seven &#8220Meth Lab Response Vehicles” which are specifically equipped for storing supplies and equipment necessary for the dangerous job of dismantling meth labs.

These vehicles are strategically placed throughout the state, with more than 25 meth officers trained in lab dismantling.