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Drug Endangered Children

Federal Response
Agencies Involved
DEC Programs
Related Publications
DEC Conferences/


Innocent children are sometimes found in homes and other environments (hotels, automobiles, apartments, etc.) where methamphetamine and other illegal substances are produced. Around the country, Drug Endangered Children (DEC) programs have been developed to coordinate the efforts of law enforcement, medical services, and child welfare workers to ensure that children found in these environments receive appropriate attention and care.

Children who live at or visit drug-production sites or are present during drug production face a variety of health and safety risks, including:

  • inhalation, absorption, or ingestion of toxic chemicals, drugs, or contaminated foods that may result in nausea, chest pain, eye and tissue irritation, chemical burns, and death
  • fires and explosions
  • abuse and neglect
  • hazardous lifestyle (presence of booby traps, firearms, code violations, poor ventilation)

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According to the El Paso Intelligence Center's (EPIC) National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System, there were an estimated 1,025 children injured at or affected by methamphetamine labs during calendar year 2008 (report generated February 3, 2009 - data are subject to change). A child affected by labs includes children who were residing at the labs but may not have been present at the time of the lab seizure as well as children who were visiting the site.

Number of Children Affected by Labs, 2004–2008

  2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Child injured 13 11 --  7  6
Child killed 3 2 -- 1 --
Children affected 3,088 1,647 -- 778 1,019
Total injured/killed/affected 3,104 1,660 1,222 786 1,025

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Federal Response

In October 2008, the President signed the Drug Endangered Children Act of 2007 into law. This legislation will provide for funds to be used for DEC-related grants.

In 2003, the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) awarded $2,124,000 to be used for DEC programs as part of the COPS Methamphetamine Initiative 2003. See a listing of grantees.

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Agencies Involved

A variety of agencies are called for response when drug laboratories are identified, including HAZMAT, law enforcement, and fire officials. When children are found at the laboratories, however, additional agencies and officials should be called in to assist, including emergency medical personnel, social services, and physicians.

Although coordination among child welfare services, law enforcement, medical services, and other agencies may vary across jurisdictions, interagency protocols developed to support drug-endangered children should generally address:

  • staff training, including safety and cross training
  • roles and responsibilities of agencies involved
  • appropriate reporting, cross-reporting, and information sharing
  • safety procedures for children, families, and responding personnel
  • interviewing procedures
  • evidence collection and preservation procedures
  • medical care procedures

Actions of the responding agencies should include taking children into protective custody and arranging for child protective services, immediately testing the children for methamphetamine exposure, conducting medical and mental health assessments, and ensuring short- and long-term care.

Some agencies have developed protocols to use when responding to these situations:

Arizona Drug Endangered Children (DEC) Multidisciplinary/Integrated Protocol

“How to Care for Children Removed from a Drug Endangered Environment”

Indiana DEC Protocols and Supporting Documents

National Protocol for Medical Evaluation of Children Found in Drug Labs (PDF)

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A large number of states have introduced legislation to respond to and address the problems associated with children being found at locations where methamphetamine is either used or produced. See the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws resource, State Child Endangerment Bill Status Update (PDF) for information about specific legislative bills on this issue that have been introduced as of January 17, 2007.

The following examples of enacted and proposed legislation change the way DEC cases are handled:


A.R.S. 13-3623 (passed in 2000)—created liability when a person places a child in a location where a methamphetamine lab exists

A.R.S. 12-1000 (passed in 2003)—makes is unlawful to anyone other than the property owner/manager to enter a property where drugs were being manufactured until it is cleaned by a state-approved site remediation firm. This ensures that children will not be returned to a drug laboratory site until it is determined to be safe.


HB 1131 (introduced January 2004)—will create an offense of endangering a child through the unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine, amphetamine, or a mixture containing either substance


Revised Statute 14:93.A (2) (amended in 2004)—identifies as an offense the intentional or criminally negligent exposure by anyone age 17 or older of any child under age 17 to a clandestine laboratory operation in a situation where it is foreseeable that the child may be physically harmed. Lack of knowledge of the child's age can not be used as a defense.

North Dakota

HB 1351 (passed in 2003)—makes it a felony to expose children or vulnerable adults to a controlled substance, precursor, or drug paraphernalia.


HB 2610 (passed in 2002)—establishes a felony for endangerment of a child by exposure to methamphetamine or its precursors.

RCW 26.44.200 (passed in 2002)—requires the investigating law enforcement officer to contact the Department of Social and Health Services immediately if a child is found at a meth lab

See MethResources: Policies and Legislation for additional legislation concerning drug endangered children.

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DEC Programs

Following are examples of DEC programs that have been developed throughout the United States

Arizona Drug Endangered Children Program

Colorado Alliance for Drug Endangered Children

Georgia Alliance for Drug Endangered Children

Iowa Drug Endangered Children

Kansas Alliance for Drug Endangered Children

Los Angeles Drug Endangered Children Response Team

National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children

Oregon Alliance for Drug Endangered Children

Riverside County Drug Endangered Children Program

Shasta County Drug Endangered Children Program

South Dakota Alliance for Drug Endangered Children

Tennessee Alliance for Drug Endangered Children

Texas Alliance for Drug Endangered Children

See MethResources: Programs for additional DEC programs.

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Related publications


Children at Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs: Helping Meth's Youngest Victims
Office for Victims of Crime, June 2003

Children at Risk
National Drug Intelligence Center, July 2002

Drug Labs and Endangered Children (PDF), FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Federal Bureau of Investigation, July 1999

State and Local

Arizona Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (DEC) Program Annual Report 2007 (PDF)
October 2007

Georgia Alliance of Drug Endangered Children Strategic Plan 2006 (PDF)
December 2006

Survey of Policies and Procedures for Drug Endangered Children in Washington State (PDF)
Washington Governor's Council on Substance Abuse, September 2006


Drug Endangered Children: A Prosecutor’s View (PDF)
National Crime Prevention Council

See MethResources: Publications and Research for additional publications concerning drug endangered children.

More methamphetamine publications

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DEC Conferences/Trainings


April 11, 2011
2011 Iowa DEC Conference
Altoona, Iowa

September 14–16, 2011
2011 National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children Conference
National Harbor, MD


Arizona Drug-Endangered Children Program Training and Technical Assistance

Child Abuse Investigations in Meth Lab Cases

Drug Endangered Children Investigations Course

Drug Endangered Children: Training for Trainers

Kentucky's Drug Endangered Child Training Network

Meth Space: The New Danger to Children

National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children: Training Downloads

See the Upcoming Conferences and Training and Technical Assistance sections of our MethResources Web site for additional events.

Do you have information about a DEC training/conference? If so, please e-mail ONDCP with information about the event.

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