The drug problem in California has resulted in a long list of deleterious effects: with millions of residents addicted to drugs and alcohol, drug abuse has become California’s number one cause of premature death.

Methamphetamine is the primary drug threat in California. Mexican organizations dominate the production and distribution of high-quality meth, but clandestine laboratories can be found in any location: high density residential neighborhoods, sparsely populated rural areas, remote desert locations in the southern portions of California, and the forested areas in northern California. The drug problem in Northern CA is especially severe with the combination of the drug pipeline from Mexico, and illicit operations in the secluded forests and remote rural areas.

The Effects of Drug Abuse in Northern California

Abuse of drugs or alcohol by parents and other caregivers can have significant negative effects on the health, safety, and well-being of children, as noted in the US government report on Parental Drug Use as Child Abuse. Two areas of concern are the harm caused by prenatal drug exposure and the harm caused to children of any age by exposure to illegal drug activity in their homes or environment.

Methamphetamine has come to light as one of the leading causes of child abuse and neglect. This is a stimulant drug that wreaks havoc on the nervous system. It causes, among other things, violent behavior and contributes to a loss of impulse control. Its use continues to be a chronic problem across the United States, in addition to being a major drug problem in Northern California. Increasingly, children are becoming innocent casualties of meth-abusing parents.

Experts in Fresno, California agree that child neglect due to substance abuse is a growing issue for many California families. And with the rise of methamphetamine use in the state, hospitals are seeing more kids coming in with meth and other drug exposure. The combination of the drug itself and the behavior of the adult hooked on meth puts children living in these settings in a dangerous and damaging environment.

“I know I’m seeing more kids every year, and I’m not surprised if meth is part of the component,” said Dr. Philip Hyden, a child abuse pediatrician with 30 years of experience, including the last seven as the director of the Guilds Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera.

“This is the worst child abuse I’ve seen in my entire career in the Central Valley,” he said.

In addition to the dangers of neglect and abuse by using parents, homes where meth is “cooked” are toxic in and of themselves. Meth production involves highly toxic ingredients such as battery acid, drain cleaner, lantern fuel and antifreeze. The production of one pound of methamphetamine produces five pounds of waste. Methamphetamine is a crystal that vaporizes when heated, as in smoking. The vapor clings to surfaces and reforms into crystals. People who come in contact with these surfaces can ingest the meth through their skin or by touching contaminated surfaces then touching mouth, nose or eyes. Babies are especially vulnerable. They live in a world where they crawl on all fours and everything is sampled by tasting. It takes only small amounts of meth to affect a baby.

People who are exposed to second hand meth report loss of appetite, spaciness, inability to concentrate, itchy skin, dry eyes, irritability, paranoia, colds, breathing difficulty, sinus problems, headaches, nervousness, anxiety, acne and confusion. Researchers are just now working to find the impact meth may have on the growth of a child.

Experts say the biggest weapon against child abuse is getting family members or friends to speak up and tell authorities even if it’s just a suspicion.

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