Experts on meth addiction and child welfare say that recent news media coverage has spread myths, reports Youth Today. Among them: meth-related child abuse is worse than it is, meth addicts are harder to treat than they are, and that the nation's child-welfare system is overwhelmed, when many agencies are coping well. Experts worry that the recent reporting on meth's connection to child abuse may erode public support for drug treatment programs and family-strengthening services that can keep children out of foster care, just as hyped reporting on crack cocaine did in the 1980s and '90s. More than 90 leading physicians, scientists, and treatment specialists urge that public policies on meth “be based on science, not presumption or prejudice.”
Despite claims that prenatal exposure to meth is creating a new class of disabled “meth babies,” there is little research on long-term effects, says Barry Lester of the Brown University Center for the Study of Children at Risk. “I don't want us to make the same mistake with meth that was made with cocaine,” he says. “We don't know that meth-exposed babies are harmed, and if the meth effect is anything like the cocaine effect, it is mild and treatable.” Meth addicts are as treatable as cocaine addicts, says Richard Rawson of the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs. Effective practice models exist for meth-related child abuse. The foster care system as a whole has not been overwhelmed by meth-related admissions. The national foster care population has declined every year since 1999, when it peaked at 570,000. (In 2003, the latest year for which national data are available, it was 523,000.) Without recent national data, it's too soon to know whether increases reported by some jurisdictions are localized aberrations or predictors of more widespread increases to come. In California and Illinois, among the few states to report statistics for 2004 and early 2005, the foster care populations have continued to decline, despite entrenched meth problems in those states.