Crystal methamphetamine use is forcing an increasing number of Alabama children into foster care, and child welfare workers are getting special training to deal with the crisis.

Alabama's Department of Human Resources says the number of children placed in foster care because of drug use by a parent or caregiver has risen from 58 cases statewide in fiscal 2000 to 585 by fiscal 2005. Much of it is tied to meth use.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant often manufactured in home labs. Law enforcement crackdowns have cut the number of labs in the state, as have laws restricting the sale of its common ingredients, but officials believe it continues to be imported and abused in high numbers.

In the first six months of fiscal 2007, DHR had 288 children placed in foster care for the first time because of parental drug abuse, up from 246 at the same time the year before.

There are now about 650 children in foster care, out of about 6,000 total, as a result of parental drug abuse.

Statistics for meth use vary from county to county, with much of it concentrated in north Alabama. During fiscal 2006, Jackson County reported 87 children in foster care, with 29 there from cases related to meth use. For DeKalb County, 21 of 92 foster-care cases were tied to meth.

The growing problem spurred Sara Majors, a nursing professor at the University of South Alabama, to spend three years studying the drug's dangers. Her goal is to speak to DHR workers in every county in hope of spreading the word.

"Parental drug use is one of the biggest challenges to children today," she said. "Meth is worse than any drug since LSD."

Majors, 61, had a background in pediatric nursing before her work with foster care in Mobile County got her started on the drug information tour.

The agency keeps the statistics so it can determine the best care a child or family might need, said John Bradford, a DHR spokesman. That allows workers to formulate a plan to best help reunite the family.

Meth is a cheaply produced, easily acquired drug that is readily available in rural and urban areas, Majors said. That means it can have many effects on children, their parents and the social workers involved.

For example, Majors tells social workers investigating homes being used as meth labs to prepare for potential hazards from explosions or exposure.

"They need to know right away they're in danger," Majors said. "Meth users can become very violent and unpredictable."

Social workers even have to discard the clothing of the children because they may be contaminated with the chemicals used to create the drug.

"You've got the residue in the air that affects the people in the building, and children don't have to be in the home where the drug is being cooked," she said. "It saturates the air."

The effects are staggering. Majors tells of a child who sucked on a bag containing meth and then became blind and deaf. Babies born to addicts can have tremors and seizures, prolonged crying, inability to sleep and difficulty feeding.

The drug's impact on child cases is easy to spot, she said. Parents on the highly addictive drug become careless with their child's well-being, as well as their own.

But, she said, the outlook for addicts seeking recovery is improving. Three years ago, most experts believed about a year of inpatient treatment was required to manage crystal meth addiction. Now, it can takes months, if an addict is properly motivated.

"I can't think of anything that would motivate a person more than losing their kids," she said.

  • Drug Facts
  • Three out of four drugs that are used illegally in the United States are prescription drugs.
  • Mixing Xanax with Alcohol can be deadly.
  • Illegal possesion of Xanax is a felony and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and a $5,000 fine.
  • Xanax addiction withdrawal studies in which patients on xanax dosages of two miligrams a day for one year indicate that some individuals experience withdrawal symptom recurrence.
  • Xanax comes in two forms: 1-mg lavender-colored tablets referred to as "footballs" or "blues" which sell for around $2 and 2-mg white rectangular-shaped pills (nicknamed "bars," "coffins" or "french fries") which go for $5 to $10.