Ice, Ice, Baby

Arizona moms are abusing meth more than any other drug. Want to get them clean, save the family and save tax dollars? Try dangling their kids as the carrot

"Meth is the worst drug I've seen on the family." he says. "If you're on it, all you want is the drug -- period. The idea of taking care of kids goes right out the window."

He has charged into the worst of houses, babies lying in days' worth of their own feces next to explosive meth-lab chemicals, 5-year-olds running households because mom has been in bed for three days. In a recent home, the child's main chore was to get the meth pipes for the adults.

And Ahumada doesn't mind stacking charges on parents. In the chain of law enforcement, judicial and health-care officials involved in the attorney general's Drug Endangered Children program, it is his job to give those down the road in the system the biggest stick possible.

Meth researcher Dr. Barry Lester
Meth researcher Dr. Barry Lester

So he's tough on crime.

But his great hope, he says, is that the case he builds on parents ultimately leads to the rebuilding of that family. No doubt, some of the people he busts are just plain scumbags. But very often, he says, he finds hope for the future in the oddest places.

For example, he often comes across parents who say they only smoke meth once their kids are in bed. One dad would only cook when his children were at school. If they came home and the batch wasn't cooked, "mom would take the kids to the mall."

Maggie Voss insists she never let her kids go into the room in which "the hard-core users" were shooting meth into their veins.

While it's true, Ahumada says, "that tweakers don't parent their kids at all, it's also true that many of these people, if you can get the drug out of the house, have a good chance at rebuilding the home."

"This may sound weird, but I can often see the parenting values still there buried under the horrors of the addiction," he says. "What that is is a glimmer of hope. If we can do the job right after I'm done, there's a chance I won't have to come back."

And the children?

Yes, there's damage, but kids are also resilient, and "in some cases, they've learned to take care of themselves in ways most kids of today can't even imagine," he says. "If you can just get the drug out of the family setting, there's hope. And in many cases I've seen, there's plenty of hope not just that these kids can get by, but that they can thrive."

What that means for a community, Ahumada says, is providing the proper carrot to go along with the stick provided by police.

It was 7 a.m., and here was this rough-looking guy cruising around on a motorcycle with a rough-looking woman hanging on. You can see why the cop pulled over Maggie Voss and her boyfriend. They screamed methamphetamine.

When the cop ran Maggie's name through the system, it came back that she had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear.

Well, of course she didn't get to court that day. Her previous boyfriend had locked her up in a bedroom of his house. He boarded the door and told Maggie that if she and her daughter tried to leave, he would kill them.

But she did leave. And the guy did stalk her. And then she found this new guy. And he was pretty nice to her, and he did not lock her up for days on end and did not beat her and threaten to kill her every day.

"You know, he didn't pulverize me," Voss says. "So I was hooked."

Unbeknown to her, in her belly that morning was her fourth child by the third different guy.

Her other three kids were with her parents and sister.

She had taken them to her sister's years before. Voss told her sister she was hard up for money and needed a few weeks to get back on her feet.

The weeks turned to months, the months to years, and pretty soon, her sister and other family members stopped bringing the kids by for visits.

Her family wasn't exactly sure what was happening -- they did not know about meth. Voss had been raised in a healthy, happy home -- "no cycle perpetuating itself there," she says. "But that meant they weren't exactly sure what I was up to. They just knew it was bad."

Throughout the late 1990s, she bounced from meth house to meth house. Back then, it was pretty much only a white-trash drug, lots of biker dudes, lots of tattoos, a few Aryan Brotherhood members.

In time, Voss was dealing. At first she was bad at it. Her volume was not only too low to support her habit, but she lost her house and everything else.

So she took her kids to her sister's and moved in with a new guy. She started dealing more and getting ripped off less. She always carried a pistol and was known around town as a ferocious bitch to cross.

"If you met me then," she says in the cafeteria of the hospital where she now works as an administrator, "you would not have seen hope. You would have wanted to put me away for life."

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