Federal report tallies meth’s toll on Missouri children

Meth labs exact a human price on Missouri, but also an actual one.

Custodial care for children removed from homes related to the toxic labs cost the state almost $3.5 million over a recent six-year period, a recent report by the U.S. Governmental Accountability Office revealed.

During the period between January 2006 and December 2011, the Missouri Department of Social Services “substantiated 702 reports of children exposed to meth labs, involving a total of 1,279 children,” the GAO report said.

Of those, 653 children necessitated placement in the department’s custody.

In one Missouri county, which the report did not name, “so many children were being removed from meth lab homes and placed in state custody that there are now no longer any foster families available to care for them,” the report said.

Statistics show Missouri with a grim leadership in methamphetamine incidents. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reports the number of meth incidents, including discovery of operational labs, seizures of lab equipment and dump sites, as 20,529 between 2002 and 2011.

The GAO report, using the same source, the National Seizure System, found the number to be 20,967. In either case, the incidents far outnumber the next most prevalent state, Tennessee, with 14,836.

A map accompanying the Highway Patrol annual reporting shows most of the meth activity in the southern tier of the state, though at least 146 incidents in Buchanan County have been reported between 2002 and 2011.

According to the GAO report, which covered the meth problem across the nation, states have put in place programs to take care of children exposed to meth labs. They range from medical screenings for toxicity to psychological treatment to family-based support services.

“The costs to state department of human service agencies to provide services to these children can be significant depending on the number, age and specific needs of the child,” the report said.

In some places, the needs tax the local providers. A United Way assessment last year of Franklin County, situated southwest of St. Louis, said “increased substance abuse related to methamphetamine use/production was identified as one of the significant factors contributing to the increase in out-of-home placements” of children.

Enforcement efforts have gotten new attention in Jefferson City. Gov. Jay Nixon made stops last week in a couple of southern Missouri cities to discuss the $3 million he has proposed in his budget to support more than two dozen drug task forces throughout the state, including those in Buchanan and Grundy counties.

“As federal support for these efforts is scaled back, my administration is taking steps to ensure Missouri’s drug task forces have the resources they need to continue fighting crime and protecting our citizens,” the governor said.