FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Experts say the combination of the drug itself and the behavior of the adult hooked on meth puts children living in these settings in a dangerous and damaging environment.
Experts agree child neglect due to substance abuse is a growing issue for many California families. And with the rise of methamphetamine use in the state, hospitals are seeing more kids coming in with meth and other drug exposure
Methamphetamine use continues to be a chronic problem across the United States and, like with any other drug, causes harm to more than just the user.
Children living in meth environments tend to be the casualties of abuse.
"I know I'm seeing more kids every year, and I'm not surprised if meth is part of the component," said Dr. Philip Hyden, a child abuse pediatrician.
Hyden has 30 years of experience, including the last seven as the director of the Guilds Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center at Valley Children's Hospital in Madera.
"This is the worst child abuse I've seen in my entire career in the Central Valley," he said.
Hyden can't say for sure if child abuse in Central California is on the rise because of meth use but he believes there's a strong connection.
"It may not be the direct reason the child is being abused, but it is an environmental factor that probably contributes to the way the child is being treated," Hyden explained.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that wreaks havoc on the nervous system. It causes, among other things, violent behavior and contributes to a loss of impulse control.
"No matter what drug you're on, if you're on drugs chronically, you tend to have some problems where the children are involved," Hyden said. "They're not being cared for. It's their failure to thrive. They'll come in here, and we've seen kids come in here starving to death - seriously, to death."
Experts say the combination of the drug itself and the behavior of the adult hooked on meth puts children living in these settings in a dangerous and damaging environment.
"When they do come in and the child may be acting very neurological inappropriately irritable tends to have the type of things you see with an amphetamine action upon the brain," Hyden said.
Researchers are just now working to find the impact meth may have on the growth of a child.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't have long-term effects on a child's brain," Hyden said.
Experts say the biggest weapon against child abuse is getting family members or friends to speak up and tell authorities even if it's just a suspicion.