Meth Labs Increase Child Abuse in Arkansas, UAMS Experts Say

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas has one of the highest methamphetamine addiction rates in the country and, according to experts at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), the abuse of meth can lead to a different kind of abuse – child abuse.


“Pediatricians and social workers are seeing an alarming number of children who have been exposed to meth labs,” said Jerry G. Jones, M.D., director of the UAMS Center for Children at Risk and the Team for Children at Risk at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) and professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine.


Jones said experts from the Center for Children at Risk are training professionals across the state on how meth labs can affect children. He said child abuse investigators have seen cases where babies were in cribs in the same room as the lab and where small children were allowed to wander through contaminated areas. Training is lead by Karen Farst, M.D., a physician in the UAMS Center for Children at Risk, a member of the Team for Children at Risk at ACH and an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine.


Jones said children raised around a meth lab may exhibit physical problems from long-term exposure to toxic fumes and risk developmental and mental problems later on. Children also are injured by coming in contact with the chemicals used to make the drug.


“The chemicals in meth are quite poisonous,” Jones said, adding that they are often stored in soda bottles and other containers around the home, in easy reach of curious children. The result is often accidental poisoning and chemical burns in the mouth. Children also have been burned in meth lab fires. According to Jones, about 15 percent of all meth labs catch fire, often with violent explosions.


April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month, and statistics regarding child abuse in Arkansas for 2004 were recently released by the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In Arkansas, 20,551 cases of possible abuse were investigated last year, 5,551 of which were substantiated. In 2003, 19,802 cases were investigated and 5,669 were substantiated.


The types of abuse most substantiated in 2004 include neglect (2,405), sexual abuse (1,724) and physical abuse (1,002). Jones said all suspected cases of abuse hospitalized at ACH and UAMS are evaluated by the Team for Children at Risk.  Children also are evaluated at the UAMS Arkansas Children’s House on the ACH campus. More than 500 children are seen each year at the UAMS Arkansas Children’s House.


The UAMS Arkansas Children’s House is part of the UAMS Center for Children at Risk, as is the UAMS Family Treatment Program, where children and families are helped to deal with the emotional stress of the abuse of the children. Families are referred by law enforcement officers, prosecuting attorneys, Arkansas Department of Human Services workers, private physicians and courts in 40 percent of the counties in Arkansas. The facility provides a child-friendly atmosphere where staff members work closely with the children before examinations to reduce additional trauma. Support also is available to family members, who are often traumatized emotionally.


The UAMS Center for Children at Risk is part of the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine, the largest department at UAMS.  The department provides the majority of the medical staff at ACH


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has more than 2,200 students and 660 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.1 billion a year.


UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute.