Study Shows Adverse Effects of Parental Methamphetamine Use

Children of parents who use drugs often experience negative consequences. In addition to the expected effects of the drug, there can also be associated problems, such as financial difficulties and employment issues that can lead to significant challenges for the child. A new study provides insight about the ways that children are affected when a parent uses methamphetamine. Until now, there has been no evidence that directly tied methamphetamine to the removal of children to protective services. The study, conducted by researchers at Baylor University, finds that use of the drug causes a higher rate of neglect and child abuse, which then impacts the rate of admissions for foster care. Published in a recent issue of the Economic Inquiry Journal, the findings show that when methamphetamine use goes up by one percent, it results in an increase of 1.5 percent in admissions to foster care. Scott Cunningham, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of economics at Baylor in the Hankamer School of Business and study co-author. Cunningham explains that these findings produce evidence that child maltreatment and increasing foster care placements are both caused by parental methamphetamine use. In order to address the problem, the authors say that welfare policies for children require a design that specifically addresses the needs of children who have parents using meth. To gather information, Cunningham and Keith Finlay Ph.D., co-author and assistant professor of economics at Tulane University, studied monthly records of admissions to foster care in addition to treatment admissions for meth use, retail meth prices as well as various other factors. The records accessed spanned the years January 1995 up to December 1999. This study was initiated in response to two federal laws imposing strict regulations on two main ingredients found in methamphetamine, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which were restricted in both 1995 and 1997. Cunningham explains that the policies served to create a short-term scarcity of the drug market, moving prices up as well as compromising purity of the drug. While the 1995 policy on ephedrine caused a spike in prices for meth, the effect didn’t last long. Six months later, meth prices were back to pre-policy levels. By contrast, the 1997 policy resulted in a less dramatic change in prices, but the effects were still being seen a year later. The researchers used current foster care admission information from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, which is mandated by the federal government. It provides details for each case, whether it resulted in placement for foster care or adoption within the child welfare agencies. The same system records whether children were entered into the system because of physical abuse, neglect, parental incarceration or parental drug use. The foster care system experienced an increase of 280,000 up to 408,000, an increase of more than 45 percent, primarily due to admissions occurring in the 1980s and 1990s. The authors of the study were able to show a rise and fall in the foster care system associated with methamphetamine popularity and its availability variations due to policy implementation. The authors say that the results provide ample evidence supporting the need to reduce methamphetamine use.

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