While methamphetamine use in Crow Wing County appears to be on the rise, it isn’t only area law enforcement that is seeing an increase in activity.
Crow Wing County Children and Family Services Supervisor Lynda Erickson said the number of calls social services receives related to meth use is also on the rise.
Crow Wing County Social Services started tracking calls regarding children who may be exposed to meth in October 2007. Major crackdowns were evident as numbers dropped off in 2008 but during the past five years the numbers have steadily crept back up. Erickson said of the 12 calls received on average each day, one is regarding a child who may be exposed to meth in the home. In 2012, the county received 199 calls about meth use and that number is still climbing.
“I couldn’t say this about any other drug — that we’re getting one call a day.” Erickson said. “There’s nothing that’s ever been quite as prevalent as this.”
When meth use started showing up in Minnesota about a decade ago, Erickson said county social services was forced to face something it had never dealt with before. “We had situations where parents were into meth really early on, before we even knew what it was,” she said. “Now the number is so high that it’s a lot to try to intervene with.”
Erickson said meth use in the county isn’t only about the user. The smallest victims are held hostage by the drug and are too young to even understand what is happening around them.
Young children face the risk of ingesting meth.
“Children put everything in their mouths,” Erickson said. “We hardly ever see an older kid test positive for meth.”
When children and family services receives a call regarding a child who may be in danger of exposure to meth, Erickson said, like any other call, they run through a series of guidelines before making contact.
“If a call meets the screening guidelines then we’re knocking on doors offering services,” she said.
If it is suspected a child might be ingesting meth, Erickson said the county uses a hair follicle test to determine if there are any molecules of the drug embedded in the child’s hair follicle.
While a child’s physical exposure to meth is a top concern, the county also addresses other issues associated with a parents’ meth use.
Erickson said abuse is not typically the concern when it comes to dealing with exposure to meth in a home. Neglect is a much bigger issue. “It’s hard to take care of someone else when you’re a meth user,” Erickson said.
Neglect comes in the form of lack of food, lack of heat, lack of or inadequate shelter, medical neglect and in many cases truancy. “Meth costs money so often times those other things get left behind,” Erickson said.
While it is the duty of children and family services to remove a child from an unhealthy home situation, Erickson said the goal of social services is always to reunite. “If a parent loses a child because of meth it doesn’t have to be permanent,” she said. “We are here to give people a chance.”
Joe LaRoue and Camille Lartigue battled with their addiction to meth for nearly two decades. LaRoue said their addiction started with cocaine. After losing their apartment and finding themselves nearly broke and unable to afford their habit, they moved to Minnesota to be closer to family.
“We found meth up here,” he said.
“It’s part of the progression of being an addict,” said Lartigue of the jump from cocaine to meth. “It took us all the way down.”
The pair, who has been married for 15 years, had four children together and LaRoue said they would do their best to stay sober through each pregnancy.
After spending a few years in Minnesota, the couple moved back to Texas with their four children. LaRoue said the move was a chance to start over. They were given a new home, a new vehicle, LaRoue was working a good job. “We had everything going for us, but we couldn’t stay clean,” he said.
“We quickly found ourselves involved with child protection,” Lartigue said. “(We) ended up losing all four of our children.”
LaRoue said losing their children should have been a breaking point for their battle with addiction, but it wasn’t.
“We still couldn’t stay clean,” he said.
Erickson said while the goal of social services is to reunite a family, sometimes it’s just not possible. Minnesota law says once children have been taken from their parents due to an issue within the home, the parents have a year to correct the problem and the children are reunited, or permanent custody is given to a relative or, in the worst-case scenario, the parents’ rights may be terminated.
LaRoue and Lartigue found themselves faced with the heart-breaking decision to give up their parental rights. LaRoue said the two failed a hair-follicle test and were given the option to sign over their children or have the state terminate their rights.
“That way if I ever had another child I’d be able to keep it or at least fight for it,” Lartigue said. Three years later, the couple had their fifth child, a baby girl named, Gabby.
Lartigue called their experience “a dirty life” saying they went from snorting their meth and using it just on the weekends to using intravenously and eventually manufacturing.
Faced with homelessness the two moved back to Minnesota where LaRoue was caught manufacturing in Morrison County. After spending a year in jail, LaRoue was released to do a treatment program through Central Minnesota Teen Challenge in Brainerd. He’s been sober for nearly four years now.
After completing his program, LaRoue won custody of the couple’s then 5-year-old daughter Gabby and Lartigue continued to use. “It was horrible,” Lartigue said of losing her fifth child, this time to her husband. “I was pretty desperate. I went on another binge of whatever I could get my hands on. But he had pretty much closed all those doors — money, he knew where I was going, I couldn’t get anything. I wanted to take him down and I couldn’t.”
Desperate enough to seek help Lartigue also checked into Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge in the Twin Cities. This year she celebrates two years of sobriety.
“It’s such a horrible dark life,” Lartigue said of her struggle with addiction. “It’s so hard on the kids.”
Lartigue said after completing Teen Challenge, she volunteered her time for the program writing thank you notes to donors. “I was scared to leave,” she said. “I never had any length of clean time. I never had any freedom. I never had found forgiveness for myself for what I had done to my children. That’s what Teen Challenge had provided for me.”
Lartigue now works for Teen Challenge full time with the program’s out-patient service. “I really love coming to work now,” she said.
LaRoue also works in Brainerd as a mechanic.
Lartigue said she was in treatment at least six times before finally finding freedom through her experience at Teen Challenge. “I really don’t think I could have done it any other way,” she said.
Crow Wing County Adult Services Supervisor Tammy Lueck said recovery often looks like Lartigue’s and LaRoue’s experience — it’s ongoing.
“Recovery is lifelong,” she said. “Sometimes these people do have relapses, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t go back and get help and work on those supports again.”
The county’s concern is to help users identify their problem and their need for help. “It really is a problem,” Erickson added. “But there really is help.”
For LaRoue and Lartigue, their story didn’t end the day they lost their children. It took them 10 years to find freedom from their addiction, but they have found it.
Last May, they were reunited for the first time with the four children they lost.
“It was emotional,” Lartigue said of the reunion. The four kids were adopted into two separate homes and the reunion was their first time being together since being taken from their parents. “There was a lot of staring and smiling,” Lartigue said.
The couple continues to stay involved with Teen Challenge and the church community at Faith Baptist in Brainerd. “We’re firm believers in freedom in the Lord,” Lartigue said. “Life is really good today — the blessings in our life are tremendous.”
LaRoue and Lartigue said their life now is engulfed in recovery and helping others find freedom from their own addictions. “This is pretty much all we do,” Lartigue said. “It’s a good life.”
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.