Too many Colorado families are facing the nightmare of methamphetamine. This scourge is leaving a mark on all Colorado communities, whether they are rural, urban or suburban. Parents lose children to this darkness, while children who watch their parents succumb to this addiction face a daily destructive horror.
A recent in-depth article on meth use in Northern Colorado told the traumatic story of “Ashli,” a 16-year-old whose father was a meth addict. By age 5, she had been forced into the role of caregiver for her younger brother because her parents couldn’t change diapers.
From there, a life of instability, drug abuse and neglect followed for Ashli. Fortunately, Ashli has now been able to escape this cycle after finding a safe and stable environment. Not all children will get this second chance.
When we consider that admissions to meth treatment centers in Colorado have increased 200 percent between 1997 and 2004, we begin to get an idea of the scope of this challenge. Whatever the power of addiction, there can be no excuse when it comes to endangering children. Society cannot accept or tolerate the exposure of children to this life.
Growing up in a meth household exposes children to violence, weapons, dangerous chemicals and sexual predators. Having an addict for a parent increases the likelihood that a child will later use drugs. Having your childhood robbed in this way is an act of cruelty and neglect; this robbery should not be permissible.
With State Representative Judy Solano of Thornton, I have sponsored House Bill 1145 in the Colorado State House of Representatives to help address meth addiction and the dangers to children. HB 1145 broadens the legal definition of “felony child abuse” to include the exposure of a child to meth production.
Ashli’s story stuck in my mind, and knowing she is not alone is a direct challenge to elected leaders. I know my legislative colleagues share similar anxieties, and are putting politics aside to find creative solutions. It’s also time Colorado took control of the sale of the ingredients it takes to make methamphetamine.
Drugs used to make meth, like pseudoephedrine, are widely available, making it easier for homes to turn into meth labs. Putting these drugs behind the counter at pharmacies and banning their sale to minors will help choke off the meth labs’ supplies. HB 1145 does that.
But drug dealers are inventive, which is why we can’t pass one law and proclaim our work done. As we target home production, dealers will turn to drugs and ingredients imported from outside of Colorado to fill the gap. As the dealers adapt and as society discovers more effective counters to addiction, we must move quickly and pragmatically.
HB 1145 does this by making sure the state legislature revisits the issue every year until 2010. A special committee will help the legislature craft new and better solutions. We can’t afford complacency, and I want to make sure that this issue isn’t allowed to fade away at the state capitol.
Methamphetamine is a scourge that throws families into darkness. It strikes at the very fabric of Colorado’s communities. It victimizes children whose lives should instead be vibrant and flourishing. I’ve spent most of my adult life working with and educating children so they can lead important, meaningful lives. I cannot stand idly by and watch children be robbed of their future by methamphetamine. We can never rest in finding ways to bring hope and security back to these children and their families. And we should never doubt that we will win this fight.
Angie Paccione, Ph.D., is the Colorado State Representative for House District 53 and a candidate for Colorado’s 4th U.S. Congressional District.