CLAYTON — The number of methamphetamine labs discovered across the state this year has reached a record high, and the number of children injured or affected by meth labs has nearly tripled over the past three years.
When sheriffs deputies in Johnston County raided an active meth lab recently outside Clayton, they arrested two adults. Two children, ages 4 and 6, who also lived in the home were turned over to the Johnston County Department of Social Services.
The 6-year-old was not at the house when the raid was conducted, but 4-year-old was in the house where the adults were cooking the illegal drug.
A nurse at the emergency room where the child was taken for examination told police the 4-year-old was covered with vapors from the meth operation, Deputy Alex Fish said.
They removed clothes from the child thinking it was the clothes that were saturated, Fish said. Once they removed the clothes, they realized the chemical odor was coming from the child.
The child is one of 106 children who have been injured or affected this year by the illegal drug operations of the adults responsible for them. The number of children similarly injured or affected across North Carolina has nearly tripled since 2009, according to statistics from the Attorney Generals office.
The one-pot method
The biggest change in the drug landscape is a new method of producing meth called one-pot, where chemicals are combined to cook in a plastic soda bottle, according to Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Justice.
In the Clayton home, deputies found plastic bottles used to make meth in the kitchen, bathroom, and master bedroom.
As compared to larger, more traditional meth labs, one-pot labs are highly mobile and create less waste and less meth, but can still be dangerous, Talley said.
So far this year, 13 meth labs have been uncovered in Johnston County. Law enforcement has found six in Wake County.
About 80 percent of the meth labs discovered in North Carolina this year have been one-pot labs, Talley said.
Children at meth lab sites
Denise Boyette, a social work administrator at the Johnston County DSS, said the two Clayton children are now in protective custody.
When children are removed from a drug-infested home, social workers try first to place them with relatives or close family friends. If that doesnt work, the children go to foster care.
We try our best not to disrupt the childs life because they cant help what type of living environment theyre exposed to, Boyette said.
A medical assessment and blood work is done on each child found in a home where a meth lab is located. If necessary, DSS will arrange for counseling for the children.
Boyette said most alarming to her in the proliferation of meth labs is the change in the demographic. People expect meth manufacturers to be living in run-down trailers or run-down country homes, she said. In reality, the people are usually living in decent homes with close neighbors.