Children learn at a young age in schools and at home that abusing drugs and alcohol can have catastrophic effects on their health.

Yet, children living in a drug-centered environment face an equal amount of danger to their health. Even for children in the womb, exposure to harmful environments of substance abuse can damage a child’s health.

The laws against early exposure for children

The Child Welfare Information Gateway outlines the laws to protect children from parental drug abuse and lists the consequences of raising children in this situation. Around 47 US states, the US Virgin Islands, Guam and the District of Columbia support these laws. Fourteen of those states and the District of Columbia define prenatal exposure of drugs and alcohol as child abuse or neglect.

Parents may not realize how much a child, even as an infant, absorbs and learns from the environment. A child growing up in an environment with substance-abusing parents may mimic the parent’s habits, along with the possible health dangers from second-hand abuse.

Furthermore, several of those states also require the individuals abusing substances in this situation to enter the appropriate treatment program. This is required by law, when the specified incident is reported to help stop the damage to the child. Commonly, the manufacture and selling of drugs counts as child abuse for a child growing up in that setting. While other states consider exposing the child to the manufacture or possession of any substance as a felony.

Enhanced penalties

There are steep consequences for placing a child in a drug-centered setting, such as enhanced penalties. Enhanced penalties are consecutive to existing punishments for the respective drug-crimes, unrelated charges, or child abuse and neglect charges. Nine states have statutes that mandate enhanced incarceration and penalties for the conviction of drug manufacturing while a child was on the premises.

Each state has developed similar penalties. In Arkansas, the state adds 10 years to an existing penalty and negates the chance for the parents to receive early release, parole or transfer to community correction programs. Other states – Hawaii, Montana, and North Carolina – increase the sentence if the child was harmed in these situations and is under the age of 18.

These punishments address the crime of placing an innocent child in danger of health risks or building an addiction over time. Regardless if parents are abusing substances or manufacturing them, other states need to recognize the increase in children’s exposure to illicit substance at younger ages.

If you or a loved one struggle with substance abuse, do not hesitate to seek help today. If you know of a child who is growing up in a violent home under others who abuse substances, consult the authorities before helping the individual.

A detailed list of all punishments, requirements for indictment, and other penalties for all states may be found within the publication, Child Welfare Information Gateway: Parental Drug Use as Child Abuse. Getting help for an addiction and eliminating the possibility of exposing a child to drugs in your life is the only absolute means of avoiding these penalties.

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