MONMOUTH -- Five of the foster children Nicole Lundy has taken into her home over the years have had their lives impacted by methamphetamine.
A 7-year-old girl now in Lundy's care suffered painful withdrawals when she was still an infant, the result of having a mother who used meth during pregnancy.
Two other children, a brother and sister, are performing below grade level in school because of their experience growing up with meth-addicted parents. The boy is bi-polar, and both siblings were sexually abused, Lundy said.
"It doesn't stop," she said of the special treatment and support her charges will require. "These kids are going to be in need forever."
Lundy's tough tale was one of several told during a community forum entitled "Meth, the Cost" on Nov. 14 at Western Oregon University.
It was the third public event coordinated by United Communities Against Meth, a partnership between Western students and the Monmouth-Independence YMCA.
About a dozen local and county law enforcement officers, state lawmakers and health care professionals comprised a panel that touched on the myriad ways meth affects individuals, families and society.
Oregon ranks 10th nationally in the level of meth use, and fourth for people ages 18-25, according to the "Target: Meth" guide published by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission and Oregon Partnership.
"I don't want us to be known as the meth capital of the United States," State Sen. Jackie Winters told an audience of about 50.
Winters noted several laws that have been passed in Oregon to help deter the meth trade, and said she plans on pushing a bill during the next legislative session to increase bail for meth dealers from $20,000 to $500,000.
But "you all have to become vested in this issue," she said. "We can pass laws, but laws alone won't solve this problem."
Much of the forum focused on meth as it relates to children. Officials from the Marion County District Attorney's Office said that during the past three years, more than 1,000 youngters have been taken from affected households and put into foster care or state custody.
Winters said the cost to support a child in foster care is about $18,000 a year. Bob Arias of Polk County's Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) said children removed from meth homes are forced to leave behind clothing and other belongings that may have been contaminated.
"They leave with nothing and feel like they have no support," he said. "At CASA, we ask people to donate suitcases with new clothing and supplies for them."
Kids who grow up where the drug is manufactured go unsupervised, lack basic hygiene and nutrition and may ingest toxic chemicals. The effects become more pronounced once infants reach school age, said Joseph Hunter, superintendent of Central School District.
"There are learning issues," he said. "Teachers have to have individualized education plans for these students ... which takes away attention from students who are in regular classrooms."
"Our difficulty is to get students to academic proficiency not just when they're affected by the drugs," Hunter continued, "but because their parents were users - they lacked proper clothing, love, basic necessities and end up needing counseling."
Dr. Randall Jones, who has a dental practice in Independence and has volunteered for Northwest Medical Teams, spoke about how meth affects oral health and about the difficulty of treating addicts.
Users have no concept of oral health, and show up for treatment when they're at the end stage of tooth decay, Jones said. They come in high and completely disrupt a business environment.
"It's a shame to have to put a 25-year-old into a set of dentures," Jones said. "But I've had to do it."
Many users show up in urgent care centers and can't pay their bills, which end up being footed by tax payers, Jones said. He noted that it costs Washington state $5 million a year to treat prison inmates who have "meth mouth."
"Dentists in a few more years will probably not treat users because it's an insurance liability," Jones said.
For more information about United Communities Against Meth: Paul Pfnister at 503-949-8751.