P lab children's drug levels on par with adults

02:55, Feb 15 2011

Children found in P labs are likely to be inhaling and absorbing the same levels of methamphetamine as adult drug users, new research shows.

Scientists at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research testing hair samples taken from children found in the labs were shocked to find almost 90 per cent tested positive for the drug.

ESR toxicologist and lead researcher Dr Tom Bassindale said eighty-nine percent of the tests came back positive, with samples showing the children had been exposed to methamphetamine for a much longer period of time than previously thought.

"We often analysed 6 months of hair growth and detected methamphetamine in all of that hair," he said.

"I was surprised at the high positive rate, I didn't think they'd be exposed for as long a period as the research suggests."

Scientists also found the mean reading from the children's samples was exactly the same as the readings from adults over the 2009-10 period researched.

"I was surprised also that the highest reading for methamphetamine we've ever had from a hair sample was actually from a child, not an adult," Bassindale said.

He told Radio New Zealand that because the children showed similar levels to those of active adult users, they may have also experienced the same negative health effects such as paranoia or insomnia.

Senior Lecturer in psychological medicine at the University of Auckland, Dr Trecia Wouldes, said although there was no research on the long-term affects of P on children, what was known about the effects of passive smoking could be indicative.

They could have allergies and or irritations from the drug - with the worst danger coming from breathing the fumes daily and the physical trauma or burns that could occur if the labs exploded.

"And it's not just about the chemical exposure, it's about the other factors in the environment that could affect the children," Wouldes said.

"The social environment could be equally as toxic for those children in those situations."

The age range of children tested in the ESR study ranged from two months old to 16 years old.

Of those tested, 32 of the 36 children tested over the past two years registered very high levels of methamphetamine.

Bassindale said the scientists used hair samples because often it was the only way to prove methamphetamine exposure.

"With blood and urine, you'd only be able to detect methamphetamine for 12-24 hours after exposure. Hair samples can show exposure to methamphetamine after a much longer period.

"For example in one case when a suspected lab was raided 16-month-old twins were removed from the scene. Blood and urine samples from the children did not find any evidence of drugs but both hair samples tested positive for methamphetamine."

The hair samples give the police the ability to more accurately link children to methamphetamine labs, and the results could be used as evidence in cases of child neglect, Bassindale said.

FORGOTTEN VICTIMS

Last year more than 460 children were found in 37 per cent of all clan labs and 73 per cent of all drug-dealing houses identified by police. This is up from 26 per cent and 65 per cent in 2009.

Last year's toll

December: Police found "several" children living alongside industrial chemicals at a home busted in Mt Maunganui. A 30-year-old man was charged.

November: Three pre-schoolers were found living in a P-lab in Feilding. More than $40,000 in cash and methamphetamine was seized and the children taken into state care.

September: A baby and two other children aged under eight were found in a Hamilton house with drugs and guns. Two patched gang members were at the property and police found cannabis paraphernalia warming up on the stove. A cannabis-growing operation was hidden in the garage, along with two sawn-off shotguns and ammunition. A cut-down, loaded .22 rifle was found in the house.

August: Police raid six labs in Ponsonby, Otahuhu, Glen Innes, Glenfield, and Waipu in Northland. Several children were found, including a boy, 11, where a lab was in active production, and a girl, 15, and a boy, 9, living at another address which doubled as a drug lab.

July: Three young children - from pre-school age to 14 years - were discovered in an Oropi P-lab in the Bay of Plenty. Police seized a methamphetamine lab, drugs and electronic goods.

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