Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Boy, 11, knows well the horror meth addiction wreaks on kids

By Alexis Huicochea
arizona daily star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 10.27.2006

When Frankie Santa Cruz was 5 years old, he wasn't busy running around in the backyard, watching cartoons or playing with cars. He was changing diapers, making bottles and taking care of his two baby brothers and sister because his parents were too strung out on meth to care about anything else.
Now Frankie is 11 and life couldn't be any better. His parents celebrated three years of sobriety in September, he has perfect attendance in school, and he has his own bedroom with a bed and a television.
On Thursday, Frankie spoke publicly about what it was like to live with his meth-addicted parents as part of an event sponsored by the Meth Free Alliance to address the impact of the drug on children.
Other speakers included Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias and Anthony Coulson, assistant special-agent-in-charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration's Tucson office.
Children who live in homes where methamphetamine is used or manufactured are exposed to domestic violence, severe physical and emotional neglect, and physical and sexual abuse.
Last year, nearly 1,500 children in Pima County came into the dependency system, according to the Pima County Juvenile Court. Nearly 70 percent of those cases were the result of child abuse or neglect due to parental substance abuse. Forty percent of those cases involved meth.
In 2003, Frankie and his four siblings — Aleq, 6; Zaaron, 5; Zaq, 3; and 9-year-old Aerica — were removed from their parents' care by Child Protective Services for one year.
Being taken away from their home was a relief, Frankie said.
"It was not a good place to live," the Butterfield Elementary fifth-grader said.
"We had bedrooms without any beds because the dirty laundry was everywhere. We'd have to sleep wherever our little bodies could fit."
He recalls how his parents spent most of their time in the bathroom, leaving him to feed, clothe and care for his brothers and sister.
If they weren't in the bathroom, they were sleeping or spending hours looking out of the window or a peep hole convinced that the police were coming, Frankie said.
"I remember one day my mom was too paranoid to leave the house and drive me to school, so she woke me up in the middle of the night and told me that I was sick to my stomach and I had a major accident in my bed, so I couldn't go … and I believed her," Frankie said.
As a result of his parents' addiction, he often missed school or was tardy, he said.
Frankie said he has learned a lot about the dangers of drugs from living with his once-meth-addicted parents.
"I know not to do drugs, not to even get close to them or involved with them because they are really bad for you," he said.
He hopes to tell other kids about his experience so they will say no to drugs, too.
Attorney General Goddard said it is kids like Frankie who will lead to the eradication of meth in the future.
"Methamphetamine is a continuing problem," he said. "It's a killer; on the streets they call it a soul robber because it changes people so profoundly and it's not in a good way.
"If we get young people and their parents engaged in the fight against meth, we are going to make progress."
Goddard and Coulson of the DEA noted progress has already been made in Tucson through many efforts including:
● Legislation that requires that pseudoephedrine be placed behind the counter.
● Working with the Mexican government to reduce the importation of pseudoephedrine into the United States.
● The formation of the Meth Free Alliance, which aims to tackle key issues in prevention, treatment, legislation, law enforcement, research and community mobilization.
"In spite of all of the progress that has been made, we still have a long way to go," Goddard said.
● Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at 629-9412 or ahuicochea@azstarnet.com.