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Study: Meth Epidemic Fueling Family Break Ups

The nation's methamphetamine epidemic continues to challenge local law enforcement and child welfare workers across the country. That's the conclusion of a new survey conducted by the National Association of Counties (NACO).

NACO recently interviewed 500 county sheriffs and 303 county child welfare officials in 45 states.

Sixty-seven percent of the sheriffs surveyed reported an increase in meth-related arrests in the last year. That indicates that the growth in the meth epidemic is slowing. More county sheriffs reported meth crime increases during the last five years.

But 58 percent of those surveyed say methamphetamine abuse is the biggest drug problem in their counties. NACO officials say that seems at odds with federal drug-control policy, which considers marijuana the nation's top drug-abuse concern, given its role as a gateway drug and its use by millions more Americans. The county advocacy organization is using the survey to boost efforts in Congress to attack meth abuse, and to restore proposed federal budget cuts in local law-enforcement programs.

A bipartisan "meth caucus" in Congress has restored some of the funds cut in budget proposals. More than 100 members of the House have joined the caucus.

Half of the sheriffs responding to the NACO survey say 20 percent of the inmates in their jails were arrested for meth-related crimes. Seventy percent blame meth for an increase in robberies or burglaries. Close to two-thirds say meth has caused an increase in domestic violence. More than half say assaults are on the rise, including attacks on jailers.

Forty percent of the county child-welfare workers surveyed say meth abuse by parents puts more children in foster care or some other out-of-home placement. Almost 60 percent say meth is such a persistent drug that it makes reunification of families more difficult.

The numbers hold up in Moffat County, Colo., where the county sheriff says half his inmates are in for meth-related crimes, and medical problems due to meth have him spending more money to care for inmates. The county's child welfare workers say 70 percent of their current child abuse and neglect cases involve parents using meth. They also say the children end up in foster care longer.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.