Wayne meth cases involving children bring new calls for legislation

Toddler unhurt; parents arrested

bestep@herald-leader.comOctober 1, 2011 

Authorities had a 2-year-old girl checked for exposure to methamphetamine Thursday night after finding her at a mobile home in Wayne County where people had allegedly made the highly addictive drug.

The girl was not physically injured, police said, but the incident comes days after police found a pregnant woman amid noxious fumes at another alleged meth lab in the county. Officials said Shelley Parrigin, 30, of Monticello, went into labor during the investigation of the lab.

Such cases are the latest examples of why police and others are mounting a new push to require a prescription for cold and allergy medicine that contains the ingredient that people need to produce meth in homemade labs.

The number of meth labs has plummeted in states that have required a prescription for pseudoephedrine, supporters of prescription said.

"It's a prime example of why we have to have legislation" requiring a prescription, Dan Smoot, law-enforcement director of Operation UNITE, said of the latest Wayne County case. "It's just going to get worse until we do something."

Kentucky is on track to have an all-time high number of meth-lab cases this year, according to state police. There had been 809 cases recorded by the end of August — 20 percent more than in the same period in 2010, state police said.

Pseudoephedrine is a decongestant found in some over-the-counter medicines.

Meth "cookers" mix pills with ingredients including drain cleaner to create a chemical reaction that converts the pseudoephedrine to meth, often in small labs fashioned from two-liter plastic soft-drink bottles.

The labs emit toxic vapors and can blow up.

"When that stuff's cooked, these fumes settle everywhere, and they're harmful," said Wayne County Deputy Jerry Coffey, who investigated the case involving the 2-year-old girl.

Children can experience respiratory problems, skin irritation and other adverse affects from being in a place where meth is cooked, Smoot said.

That's why police have those children checked as a precaution.

Parents also neglect children while chasing a meth high, police said.

When police found the girl on Thursday, they were investigating a report that a child was locked outside a mobile home in a rural area of the county and that there was a strong chemical odor, Coffey said.

When police arrived about 11 p.m., the girl was in the house, he said.

Some of the five adults in the trailer tried to get out the back door when police came, but there were officers at both doors, Coffey said.

There was not an active lab in the house. However, police found the remains of a lab, and some of the finished drug and materials needed to make meth, including pills containing pseudoephedrine, according to a news release from Operation UNITE.

Police arrested Paul Sweet Sr., 45, and Samantha Carter, 24, on charges of making meth and endangering the little girl.

Sweet has faced drug and other charges earlier. In January, his son said in a criminal complaint that Sweet had stabbed him in the arm and face with a screwdriver. Sweet said in a separate complaint that his son had tried to bully him.

Sweet and Carter declined interview requests at the Wayne County Detention Center Friday.

More arrests are expected in the case.

Smoot said Sweet and Carter are the girl's parents. Police did not release the child's name.

Social workers placed the girl with another family, Coffey said.

The number of children placed at risk by people producing meth in homemade labs has increased as abuse of the drug has gone up in recent years.

Police in Kentucky said that between 2007 and 2010, 350 children were removed from homes because they were there when police found a meth lab.

In May 2009, a 20-month-old boy died in Wayne County after drinking drain cleaner at a mobile home where people had allegedly made meth earlier.

The issue of requiring a prescription for medicine containing pseudoephedrine has been controversial in Kentucky.

A pharmaceutical industry group lobbied heavily against such a proposal in the Kentucky legislature in 2010 and earlier this year.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association argues that requiring a prescription would drive up health care costs and create a hardship for law-abiding citizens who want certain cold and allergy remedies.

The association also argues that the state has an effective tracking system to enforce limits on how much pseudoephedrine people can buy under state law.

Police, however, argue that the number of meth labs has continued to go up significantly even with that system in place. Meth cookers evade those limits by getting others to buy pills for them, police said.

State Sen. Tom Jensen, a London Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will sponsor a bill in the 2012 General Assembly to deal with the issue of meth labs, and he said other lawmakers might also.

Jensen said requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine would slash the number of meth labs in the state. However, Jensen said he is considering several potential approaches to the issue.

It's clear the state needs to do something to deal with the labs, which are expensive to clean up and dangerous, he said.

"It's just a matter of time until there's going to be something really horrendous," he said.

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