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Meth's impact on children probed

USA Today 4/25/2006 by Wendy Koch

WASHINGTON Alison Bruno was 13 when her mother, a drug addict, offered her methamphetamine.

"I was addicted from that day forward," recalled Bruno, now a 22-year-old Iowa mother of two girls. She smoked meth until she found out she was pregnant at 15 and resumed after the baby was born.

"I would leave my baby with her dad, who was not an addict, for days and weeks at a time. I felt like I needed meth to survive," said Bruno, a college student engaged to be married. She said she has been clean since she got treatment at a residential family program more than three years ago.

Bruno and two other recovering meth addicts told their stories Tuesday to the Senate Finance Committee, which is examining the impact of meth on children.

"Meth poses unprecedented challenges to child-welfare agencies," testified Kevin Frank, regional administrator of child and family services at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. "Over 65% of all foster care placements in Montana are directly attributable to drug use, and of those, meth is a primary factor 57% of the time."

Frank said hundreds more children are living with grandparents or other relatives because their meth-addicted parents are incarcerated or have abandoned them.

Nationwide, 40% of child-welfare officials reported increased foster-care placements because of meth in the prior year, the National Association of Counties found last July.

About 12 million people over age 12 have tried meth, the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found.The number of people abusing or dependent on meth more than doubled between 2002 and 2004, from 164,000 people to 346,000, testified Nancy Young of the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare. She said pregnant women are showing the fastest increase among those seeking treatment for meth problems.

Meth is cheaply made in makeshift labs by extracting pseudoephedrine from cold medicine.

"It's frightening," said Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, senior Democrat on the Senate panel, of meth's rapid rise. At a recent meeting at a high school, he said, four students told him their parents were users.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the panel's chairman, said children of meth users are often neglected because the parent's high can last for hours, and a binge for days. He said others are exposed to pornography and sexual abuse because meth can cause a dramatic increase in a user's sex drive. "Our nation's child-welfare system is already overburdened," Grassley said.

Darren and Aaronette Noble, a married couple in Missouri, said a family treatment program turned their lives around by helping them understand why they abused meth and enabling them to work together. They had each used meth for years and served time in prison. One of their daughters was born addicted to meth.

"When I was using meth, I felt dead most of the time," testified Aaronette Noble. "My teeth and my hair were falling out, and other people had custody of my (four) children. My husband and I were homeless and sleeping in our car."

Meth "tore our whole family apart," said Darren Noble, adding that the family has changed since undergoing treatment and no longer associates with meth users. He said he no longer craves the drug.

"I feel tempted at times," Bruno said after the hearing. "I have to prepare myself for those moments." She said she still goes to meetings to aid her recovery. "I'm an addict. That's not going away."