Oregon City-based Children’s Center Medical Examiner Christine Smith presented groundbreaking research into the overlap of illegal drug use and child abuse at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s national conference in Las Vegas last month.

Illicit drug use in Oregon exceeds the national per capita average. According to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon is ranked fourth in the United States for reported rates of illicit drug use by those 12 and older.

Smith began researching the prevalence of illegal drug exposure and ingestion in children in 2010. Smith recalls one particular Children’s Center case that made her more aware of the need for testing children’s exposure to drugs.

The case involved a 3-year-old boy, who was referred with concerns that he had been exposed to marijuana in the home. When his test results came back, they showed he had ingested ecstasy.

“What we think is happening with these kids is not necessarily the reality they’re living with,” Smith said.

Since then, Smith and Children’s Center Medical Director Sue Skinner have pioneered drug testing in Oregon for Clackamas County children. Currently, Children’s Center is the only Child Abuse Intervention Center in the state that is testing for drugs on a consistent basis.

“We’ve really pushed the limits on making sure all kids are tested when appropriate,” Smith said.

Approximately 25 percent of children referred to the center between July 2011 and June 2012 had concerns of drug endangerment in the home, which is a form of child neglect. The majority of drug exposure concerns are for nonverbal children — infants, toddlers and developmentally delayed kids.

Children’s Center drug-exposure tests are conducted at a lab requiring a 100-milligram sample of the child’s hair to test for nine illegal substances. The hair sample is tested for repeated exposure over three months. It also reveals whether the drug exposure was environmental or if drugs were ingested by the child, or both.

Of 124 valid hair tests conducted between July 2011 and June 2012, 51 percent came back with positive results for at least one drug. Of the positive results, the most common drugs were methamphetamine (81 percent), marijuana (27 percent) and opiates (21 percent).

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