Ice, Ice, Baby

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Which is why Lester and 90 other physicians, scientists and treatment experts released a statement in July imploring the nation's policymakers to address the methamphetamine problem with great care.

"We are concerned that policies based on false assumptions will result in punitive civil and child-welfare interventions that are harmful to women, children and families," the group's statement read.

The physicians called for policymakers to base their decisions on "the best research" and to focus on promoting the proven solutions -- "ongoing research and improvement and provision of treatment services."

Whether that will happen -- especially in regions of the country like Arizona, where law-and-order demagoguery wins elections -- is anyone's guess.

"You get these 'tough-on-crime' guys who have no idea how to actually be tough on crime," Lester says. "What they end up doing is just ruining lives and perpetuating crime over generations."

Detective Tim Ahumada is tough on crime. Has been for a quarter of a century.

He's still working on being smarter on crime, though. That is a lifelong process. And that is the only way you ever win any ground in the drug war.

"I know we need to do something more as a community, but I'm still not exactly sure what it is," admits Ahumada, who works with the Phoenix Police Department's Crimes Against Children Detail, a job that increasingly takes him into the homes of meth abusers with young children.

"As a police officer, I'm the intervention. I'm the quick fix. But I'm not the answer."

Ahumada, like a lot of veteran cops in the drug wars, is a dichotomy of hope and cynicism. He doesn't see that his 25 years have put a dent in drug use. In fact, he has plugged away as a new and bigger scourge has grown exponentially around him.

"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.

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.

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Robert Nelson