Scientists at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research have been testing hair samples taken from children found in illegal drug laboratories and found 89 per cent of the samples tested positive for methamphetamine.
The levels found in the children’s hair are very similar to the levels found in adult methamphetamine users. The age range of children tested ranges from two months old to 16 years.
In some cases hair testing is often the only method way by which exposure to methamphetamine is proved. For example in one case when a suspected lab was raided 16-month-old twins were removed from the scene. Blood and urine samples from the children did not find any evidence of drugs but both hair samples tested positive for methamphetamine.
ESR’s hair testing service is being utilised by the legal sector on both sides of the Tasman, as it is the only laboratory in Australasia that provides court standard evidence reports commercially.
The results of the research are being prepared for publication in an international journal.
ESR has a fact sheet on detecting drugs through hair analysis here.
The SMC approached the lead researcher at ESR and other experts for comment on the findings. Further comments will be posted on the SMC website.
ESR toxicologist and lead researcher Dr Tom Bassindale comments:
“Eighty-nine percent of the children tested positive to methamphetamine in a hair test. While there is no published data on passive exposure, individuals would need to have exposure to the chemicals over a prolonged period, or environmental exposure for us to be able to identify the drug in a hair sample,”
“I was surprised at the high positive rate, I didn’t think they’d be exposed for as long a period as the research suggests.We often analysed 6 months of hair growth and detected methamphetamine in all of that hair.
“I was surprised also that the highest reading for methamphetamine we’ve ever had from a hair sample was actually from a child, not an adult. The mean reading for children is exactly the same for children as it is for adults over the 2009 – 2010 period we looked at.
“With blood and urine, you’d only be able to detect methamphetamine for 12-24 hours after exposure. Hair samples can show exposure to methamphetamine after a much longer period.
“For the police, it gives them the ability to more accurately link children with positive hair samples to methamphetamine labs where the children have been. This could be used as evidence in cases of child neglect.”
To speak to Dr Bassindale, contact Alison Corich at ESR on 027 4209434
Dr Trecia Wouldes, Senior Lecturer, Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland comments:
“We have known for some time that hair was a good indicator of exposure to methamphetamine. Studies from the U.S. Have shown that the most danger for children in these environments is complex.
“For instance, research has shown there are a number of ways a child may be affected: first, children may accidentally ingest the products used in the manufacture of methamphetamine because they are stored in the refrigerator next to food, second, children may be affected due to physical contact with carpets and furniture, this is particularly true for toddlers and babies who may be crawling and playing on carpeted surfaces; and, finally, the most danger for children is breathing the fumes daily and the physical trauma and burns that could occur from the explosion of the highly combustible products that are used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
“However, it is also important to consider the social environment these children are exposed to when they live in homes where methamphetamine is manufactured and sold.”