(WGEM) - Meth. It's an epidemic.
The drug has become such a problem that it's now affecting children across the tri-states.
Meth busts continue to increase and unfortunately kids are sometimes found right where the drug is being made, caught in the middle of an addiction that's putting them in danger in their own home.
"It's probably the worst thing we deal with," Pat Frazier, Master Sgt. for Illinois State Police and West Central Illinois Drug Task Force, said.
In 2012, Frazier's office dealt with 15 cases of children living in a home with meth, five more than in 2011.
"The methamphetamine is in the same room where the child resides," ISP Master Sgt. David Roll said. "Or we've had it in the kitchen or in the living room or in the basement."
Last year, there were 97 meth related cases in the West Central Illinois Drug Task Force's 10 county area. 77 of those were in Adams County, including one of the biggest busts the task force have ever dealt with.
That's a 61 percent increase from 2011 and 155 percent up from 2010. Agents blame the shake and bake method, where people can easily mix common household chemicals to make meth in something as simple as a water or a soda bottle.
"They can take it home or even take it in their car," Frazier said. "And they shake it all in a bottle and they can make their own meth. It's become much easier and much more prevalent."
Frazier says the fact meth is made in a bottle creates a huge threat to children. He talked about one case where a suspect was giving his child Gatorade to drink and then using the bottle to shake up meth.
"She's used to drinking out of a Gatorade bottle even though she's a small child, so she would grab one or the other and not know what's in it."
"Kids are curious. And that's the thing we concern ourselves with. Will a child get into something that's potentially going to harm them."
When agents have to serve a warrant for an arrest and they know kids are involved, they try to do it when the children are in school or aren't home. But if they have to, they'll call in DCFS to handle the situation and do their best to explain to that child what's going on.
"You try to tell them mom and dad need some help and that mom and dad are sick and we're going to try and find a place for you to go. People are coming and we try to explain these people are going to help you."
Frazier and Roll say dealing with a meth lab where children are involved never gets easier, no matter how many times they've had to see it.
"We deal with the user and the person making it, and that's bad. You hate to see anybody go through this, but when the children are suffering like this, it's bad because they're innocent."
So how do these agents find out about meth labs?
A lot of their work is based off of other busts that lead to another suspect. Frazier and Roll says tips from the public are a huge help.
They say if you see any suspicious activity in your neighborhood, whether it's a lot of people coming and going from a residence for example or maybe you smell something odd, to call police because they rely on those tips.
And what happens to the kids? Where do they go?
Whenever children are involved, police have to report it to DCFS. Officers then work with DCFS to make sure the child is placed with a safe family member or they'll be placed in protective custody.
And if officers fear the child may have been exposed to meth, then they have to have a medical exam to make sure they're healthy.
The penalties for a meth suspect are harsh. And when a child is involved it's a Class X felony, the most serious drug crime. And a suspect faces up to 60 years in prison.
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