Baby tests positive for methamphetamine

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Craig police had their first opportunity to apply changes to Colorado's child abuse law last week when they took custody of a newborn who tested positive for methamphetamine.

Police took the baby, born Jan. 18 at The Memorial Hospital, into custody after a doctor reported blood tests were positive for the drug.

Doctors are among those required to report suspected child abuse.

Officials would not disclose the infant's gender.

The Moffat County Depart--ment of Social Services Director Marie Peer said that confidentiality laws prohibit her from commenting on the case. And because a juvenile is involved, court clerks cannot confirm whether there has been a hearing to determine the best placement for the infant.

The Colorado Children's Code was changed July 1, strengthening officials' ability to take custody of a child if he or she tests positive for Schedule I or Schedule II drugs, which include methamphetamine, coc--aine, heroin and Ecstasy.

Colorado was one of the last states to make prenatal drug use automatic grounds to take an infant from its mother.

"Colorado is behind on these sort of things," Craig Police Sgt. Bill Leonard said.

Leonard estimates there were two to three babies born last year in Moffat County who tested positive for methamphetamines, but this is the first case under the new state law.

Officials are awaiting results from a second lab test before deciding whether to charge the mother, Leonard said. If the results are positive, police likely will issue a summons for her to appear in court, rather than arresting her, he said.

Because of increased meth use, Leonard said, he expects to see a rise in the number of cases in which children are affected by a parent's use.

Leonard is a member of Mof--fat County's Drug-Endan--gered Children Task Force, which is less than two months away from signing an interagency agreement on the procedure for handling situations where drugs and children are involved.

"We're setting clear protocol for what each agency's response is going to be," he said.

Situations addressed in the agreement include babies born with drugs in their systems and children living in a high-use environment or drug lab. Response includes working with parents, taking children into protective custody, decontaminating those whose bodies and clothes are covered with drug residue and treating those who may have long-term health effects.

There is little research on the risks of second-hand meth ingestion. Even experts disagree.

Some health officials say meth-addicted babies suffer a variety of medical and developmental problems. Symptoms include overstimulation, muscle tremors, malnutrition and excessive sleepiness, health officials say.

Last year, Resmiye Oral, pediatrician and director of the Child Protection Program at the University of Iowa, told the Associated Press that damages caused to children exposed to the drug is permanent.

Long-term effects for children who have been exposed to drug use can include learning disabilities, attention problems or behavioral problems, health officials say. Drug use may also cause mental retardation and defects of the face and body, health officials say.

Attention-deficit/Hyperact--ivity Disorder, anti-social behavior and aggressiveness, as well as a predisposition to abuse drugs and engage in other delinquent behaviors, are common among children exposed to meth in the womb, health officials say.

Earlier this month, a panel of 93 medical and psychological researchers disputed those findings in an open letter to the public. In the letter, researchers said, "Although research on the medical and developmental effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure is still in its early stages, our experience with almost 20 years of research on the chemically related drug, cocaine, has not identified a recognizable condition, syndrome or disorder that should be termed 'crack baby,' nor found the degree of harm reported in the media and then used to justify numerous punitive legislative proposals."

A condition termed "Neonatal Narcotic Abstinence Syndrome" -- drug withdrawls -- has yet to be connected with cocaine or methamphetamine exposure, the letter's authors went on to say.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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