By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
In some suburban enclaves, meth has produced virtual orphans. A meth-addicted neighbor in Sarah's New Caney town-house community locked her five-year-old daughter out of the house every day so she could get high. One day, the child wandered into Sarah's house, where she fished a slice of stale bread out of the trash can. Sarah twice found her asleep in an upstairs closet. Such problems are harder to detect in semirural areas, where cops and caseworkers are scarce. Mejorado, one of 17 CPS workers in all of Montgomery and Waller counties, finds that many parents stay on drugs because they don't have access to detox centers. "It's pretty frustrating," she says.
Meth users may not care about their children, but they keep popping them out. In 2002, the five-year-old's mother became pregnant. Her friends pooled their money and gave her $600 for an abortion. She spent the money on meth instead and had the child. Pregnant again nine months later, she shot meth on the way to give birth at the hospital. CPS confiscated the infant for a month because it tested positive for the drug. Studies of meth babies have found they are, on average, more likely to be stillborn, have lower IQs and exhibit behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, aggression and inability to focus.
Still, kids are often the last barrier between their mothers and the rock bottom of addiction. When Sarah finally gave up her children, she stopped just smoking meth and took it through more potent injections. The veins in her arm collapsed, so she shot it into her neck and head. "The guilt that I have from losing my children is just unbearable," she says, "so it's easy to turn to dope; it's easy to say, 'Hey, I'm getting high, that's why I don't have my kids.' "
Antidrug advocates in Texas hope a new law that went into effect last month will cut down on meth abuse. It limits over-the-counter sales of cough medicines that contain the meth ingredient pseudoephedrine. A more stringent law enacted in Oklahoma last year resulted in a 15 percent reduction in the number of kids taken from meth labs. Even so, child-care workers in the state say the decline was overcome by an increase in children found not in the labs but with meth-using families.
The clampdown on meth labs in Texas will at best simply shift production across the border to "superlabs" run by Mexican cartels, many drug enforcement officials say. The Drug Enforcement Administration in Texas already reports local increases in the supply of potent Mexican meth, known as ice or glass. DiMambro says there are too many different ways to smuggle and cook meth to ever eradicate the drug. "I'm gonna be dead, you will be dead, and my kids will be dead," he says, "and there will be meth here."
In late 2002, Olivia was riding in an Acura Legend with Chris, the meth dealer, heading down Graustark to pick up Scout from Poe Elementary. Cops pulled them over, saying they looked suspicious. Olivia convinced the officers to let her walk to Poe to get her son. A few minutes after she left, they opened a safe in Chris's trunk and found meth. He went to jail indefinitely. Olivia worried the cops would track her down.
She pulled out a phone book and called the Watershed, a rehab program in Florida. Scout stayed with Skanthony while she went through a monthlong detox. Chris, now free, picked her up from the airport at the end of the month and drove her straight to Sketchland. She almost immediately took a hit.
Meth is incredibly hard to kick. According to a University of California study, 94 percent of meth addicts relapse. "I'm still dealing with the same people I was dealing with 26 years ago," DiMambro says. "If they haven't died."
The drug house was also a magnet for Scout, but in a different way: It was a fun place to play. Chris, who was gay, longed for a real family. He joined Olivia and her son for dinner every week. He called it family night. Chris and Scout played with dolls and held tea parties at Sketchland with stuffed animals. "I liked Chris's because there's Barbies," Scout says. "There's food."
Thinking back on the kind of men who passed through Scout's life, Olivia worries that he could have been molested. Meth floods the brains of users with the pleasure-triggering hormone dopamine, often making them sexualized to the point of obsession. Starting in the gay community, it has been a popular fuel for orgies. "Unfortunately, you can paint a picture of Dad's high as a kite, or boyfriend, Mom is passed out -- she's crashed -- and 12-year-old female is sitting on the couch," says Gomez, the child counselor. "That happens a lot, where kids are actually victimized by members of their own family."
Drug counselors have said Scout shows no signs of having been sexually abused, though Olivia can think of plenty of times when he could have been. "I did the best I could," she says. She tells herself that often.
Olivia moved out of Sketchland in early 2003 and into an apartment, where she struggled to stay clean. Without her income from dealing, she relied on food stamps. Without a car, she walked Scout to school every day. And without meth to sustain her high, she fell to lows of depression. Olivia suffers from bipolar and attention deficit disorders. Off the drug, her mind jumped around and she thought about killing herself.