By Nathan Baker
State authorities say children are often victims left helpless in the wake of Tennessee’s expanding methamphetamine culture.
Across Tennessee, law enforcement officers discover thousands of clandestine labs used to make methamphetamine each year – and hundreds of children living in the homes where the illicit drug is produced.
Carter County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Harmon Duncan, who investigates many of the county’s drug cases, said children are present at approximately on in five of the methamphetamine lab sites discovered by officers here.
Authorities often find some form of evidence that children either reside in or visit many of the homes where labs are discovered, Duncan said.
“Sometimes we find a child’s toys outside in the yard, or clothes, a baby’s bed or bottles inside,” he said. “If we see evidence that a child has been there, we always take that into consideration when we do the testing and research.”
Duncan praised a state law enacted in 2011 that made cooking meth in the presence of a child younger than 8 a Class A felony, punishable with 15 to 25 years in prison.
For cooking in the presence of older children, those convicted face 8 to 12 years incarceration.
Children exposed to methamphetamine use either in the womb or after birth often suffer from myriad health and social problems, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services commissioned studies. Volatile chemicals and residue left behind by the manufacture and use of meth can cause central nervous system disorders in developing bodies, and children can suffer severe burns from accidental explosions and fires in home labs.
When authorities do discover children living in a house where methamphetamine is made, if no suitable relatives can be located, they often become wards of the state.