This is dedicated to Travis Holappa who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered on July 25, 2004 in Northern Minnesota. This was all due to meth. I am Travis' mother and I wish to make this devastation turn into a better thing by educating and exposing the truth about meth, the dangers, and the deadly consequences it brings about to individuals and communities.

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Location: Colorado, United States

I want to do what I can to educate people about what is going on around the world with the meth problem. I want people to know about it BEFORE they even get the idea to want to try it. It is a dangerous drug and will ruin your life as well as all those who love you. I am on a mission on behalf of my only son, Travis.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mommy's Making That Rock Candy

Battling to save meth's youngest victims
by Maggie Behringer and Aaron Mesh

August 30, 2006

Betsy Dunn had been working for Tennessee’s Child Protective Services for a decade. She had seen children’s lives rent by abuse, neglect and cruelty. She had seen families destroyed and, every so often, she had seen hope restored. But when she walked into a Cookeville house in 1999, she saw something new.

“We were looking for a particular child, a child who wasn’t there when we arrived,” Dunn recalled in 2005. “But we saw all of this strange paraphernalia lying around. Immediately, I developed a terrible headache. I couldn’t stop coughing. It was like a bad case of bronchitis. There was a very strong odor in the home…

“My co-worker started breaking out into a rash. I said, ‘What is this? What is going on?’ It was my first meth case.”

Dunn shutters now, thinking back to the first methamphetamine lab she discovered in Cookeville. Then, she knew nothing about methamphetamine – the chemicals a lab produces, the effects those chemicals have on the body, or the extent to which her work would change because of the drug.

Now, she knows too much. “Children are living in environments that I would call gas chambers,” she says. “These are extremely toxic environments.”

Detective Steve Hope of the Red Bank Police narcotics department has also found his work changed substantially due to meth. Watching Hope in his small brown office, laughing with other officers and occasionally reaching for the Coke bottle that serves as his spit cup, doesn’t make for the standard tough-cop impression. However, once Hope is prompted to talk about meth, a store of knowledge and emotion emerges.

Hope illustrates the effects of each chemical through a series of graphic pictures. The images cycling on Hope’s computer screen, while horrible, could be the same as those run on the front page of a newspaper or shown throughout Frontline’s famed report on meth.

Until the series settles on one shot of a toddler. The small boy’s inner thighs have two red inch wide marks. Hope explains that these marks which look like diaper rash are in fact chemical burns caused by exposure to the manufacturing process of meth.

Lieutenant Tommy Farmer, a member of the South/East Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force, has grown accustomed to a further horror: meeting children whose parents have become walking dead. “If they’re lucky, and they don’t blow themselves or the kids up, they’re going to get arrested or robbed or killed,” he says. “The children are going to lose that provider, that breadwinner, that affection, that person in the family.”

Hope, Farmer and Dunn might disagree on whether or not children can actually become addicted to meth though contact with a lab. Yet all three maintain that the drug presents more dangers to children than other drugs do. And even with meth lab seizures down by 70 percent in Tennessee, officials say use hasn’t dropped – and children are still being used as human shields in the drug wars.

Sitting at his desk, Hope introduces the chemicals used to produce the drug: anhydrous ammonia found in fertilizer, sodium or lithium metal from batteries, sudephedrine, fuel, sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide from Red Devil lye. The list continues: ether, Draino, red phosphorus, paint thinner and gas treatments. It’s a recipe for disaster. Ammonia and lye leave burns. Sulfuric acid creates teeth erosion and respiratory difficulties. Iodine is fatal if ingested.

(Meth connoisseurs vary the formula to fit their personal tastes. Farmer says that addicts will change the ingredients to alter the texture, look and high of meth. “I’ve heard individuals say they would rather use ether instead of Coleman fuel because [Coleman fuel] leaves a fuel taste,” he explains.)

Since cooking meth is a chemical process, it releases particles like other chemical processes. Those particles settle in carpet, wood, and air ducts, on ceilings, walls and toys. Children have a tendency to put their hands in their mouths – 200 to 400 times a day, according to Hope. This means the particles which children easily pick up crawling on the floor or playing with their toys are just as easily transmitted to their mouth.

Signs of meth exposure range from chemical burns and meth bugs – scabs on arms, legs and face – to a dirty appearance and a change in personality. Abuse, both physical and sexual, is also a factor. Parents who manufacture or use the drug are either unconcerned or unaware of the people coming in and out of their houses. “We may see the child forced to do the drug, which is not uncommon,” Farmer says.

As if that weren’t enough cruelty, there’s often another ironic twist: a meth-addicted parent will begin to see his child as an enemy. “The paranoia makes him think that the child is working with law enforcement, is spying on him,” Farmer says.

Other dangers can begin even before a child enters the world. Hope has recently developed classes on meth and pregnancy, self-described “shocker classes” designed specifically to get the attention of indifferent high school students. Should a woman use meth during her nine months, she places her fetus at serious risk. Meth travels very well through the umbilical cord, the same route that provides nutrients. This prevents internal organ growth. After birth, respiratory complications and brain underdevelopment are immediate problems. Then, there is the condition of withdrawal: a fetus, surviving for months on a diet laced with meth, suffers from disturbed sleep and eating patterns, much like any other deprived user. While long term effects have not yet been studied, abnormal habits through the crucial time due to other causes are often devastating.

How many children are placed in this sort of danger? Farmer says 750 children came into state custody because of meth in 2005 alone. But no one in law enforcement can say how many more children haven’t been discovered.

But while 750 children may be a statistic, each individual case is a tragedy. Dunn has seen the tragedies; she has heard the voices. “I’ve had children say to me, ‘Miss Betsy, my mommy’s making that rock candy on the stove and it caught on fire and we had to leave the house.’”

It was one such case that has shaped Dunn’s dealings with the drug, giving her a purpose. “It’s a personal promise I made to myself that everyone would know this story,” she begins calmly in her bright southern drawl.

When testifying before the House of Representatives’ subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources in 2005, she told the story. Dunn laughs and admits she cried on CSPAN; she jokes about her ultimate embarrassing moment. The specific case has become her consistent example when talking to the media about meth.

A few years ago, police located a lab in Cookeville, run by a mother and daughter along with several others. Through observation, officers discovered two babies and a 17 year-old boy, whom Dunn refers to as Jeremy. He proved difficult to place in the order of the house; police could not tell if he was involved in the manufacturing or simply a resident. His mother and sister quickly clarified the situation, disregarding him as “retarded.” He had also recently undergone a liver transplant.

Arrests were made and police dismantled the lab. Both the nine month old and the 18 month old babies were carried out in space blankets. Jeremy was dressed in a Tesnek suit, similar to a hazmat suit. “We call it the bunny suit,” Dunn explains. “I told him we were playing astronaut today.” She spent six hours in the Cookeville emergency room with Jeremy, watching as he ate everything in sight. He had eaten only one hot dog the day before.

After talking with him, Dunn realized that while the young man was mentally handicapped, he had been completely aware of what was happening in his home. The full understanding of what he had seen might have escaped Jeremy. Yet, between mouthfuls, he recited the step by step process of manufacturing meth, including ingredients. Dunn was shocked. “He really didn’t understand everything that was going on, but he had seen enough meth cooked know exactly what the process was,” she said in her House testimony. “But what was especially tough to swallow was the fact that he was a liver-transplant patient who was somehow trying to recover while in the toxic environment of a homemade meth lab.”

Looking around her office at picture of Jeremy and a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal that was a gift from him, Dunn remembers a better moment of their conversation. They found that they shared birthdays and Dunn promised to celebrate with him.

Jeremy now lives in the same foster home in which he was placed that March. His foster mother is trained to care for adults with limited mental capabilities. The two babies were placed with relatives. For Dunn, the example of how meth affects children will always lie with Jeremy.

“He may have been a young man, but mentally he was no different from an infant,” she says.

Thanks in part to the recent laws pushed through legislation by Governor Phil Bredesen’s Methamphetamine Task Force, law enforcement and social workers have seen a 70 percent decrease in number of labs raided in Tennessee. However, Farmer notes that the Chattanooga area’s proximity to three state lines provides manufacturers access to three different sets of laws. If someone can only buy a limited amount of ephedrine in Tennessee, he can easily buy more in Georgia or Alabama. And Mexican methamphetamine is now streaming across the borders.

“The meth is still there,” he says. “It’s just been replaced by the Mexican methamphetamine. … There’s still a heck of a market for it.”

Farmer adds that much of the challenge still lies in public perception. “People think that drug use is a victimless crime,” he says. “That’s false. That’s false from the root up.”

Dunn fears that many of the victims have yet to experience the worst of their suffering. She’s seen too much of methamphetamine, but there are still things she can’t see yet.

“Long-term effects on these children, we really don’t have any idea,” she says. “What will this do to a developing liver, a developing brain, developing lungs? We do not know what the effect will be on these children.”


Blogger jana said...

Bless you Kim! Thank you for educating the public and me. You here it in the news, but reading your posts brings it closer to home. I also live in Colorado and I praise your attention to this epidemic. I have forwarded your link to all of my family and friends. I pray that this will bring more readers and more attention to your cause. May God bless you.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Brion Lee said...

Being a recovering addict I found this article very helpful. I was looking for intervention help and came across many places that gave me the guidance I needed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011 5:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if its dangerous to have the chemical vapors in the house when you make it and they know that there are children in the house when they are making it. and this is happening everywher. why dont they just make it legal for these people to buy it from a regulated source that will be taxed and help end this economy crisis

Saturday, November 05, 2011 6:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the whole problem in this story could be solved by legalizing drugs the kids mite still have parents on meth but thats a hell of a lot better than having a methlab in the kids house.

Saturday, November 05, 2011 6:51:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

For over 10 years I was an addict and needed schizophrenia treatment help. When I got the help I needed, I could start living my life again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 4:56:00 PM  

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