Friday, March 9, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Authorities’ shoulders sagged recently when they learned a Las Vegas 15-month-old tested positive for a hallucinogenic drug known on the streets as “angel dust” and “rocket fuel.”
It’s not a common case, according to local and state data, but its shock factor underscores the need to protect children from all potentially harmful substances — both legal and illicit, authorities said.
“It is very sad because it is preventable,” said Lisa Teele, supervisor of Metro Police’s abuse and neglect detail, which investigates such cases.
In the recent case, the toddler was taken Feb. 21 to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where doctors concluded the child had been exposed to the drug PCP (phencyclidine), police said. The illicit drug distorts perceptions of light and sound, producing feelings of detachment as well as symptoms such as hallucinations, disordered thinking and extreme anxiety, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Medical workers treated the toddler, who later was placed in protective custody, officials from Child Protective Services said. Police wouldn’t elaborate on the circumstances of the case, citing an ongoing investigation.
Two children younger than 5 — a 17-month-old and a 2-year-old — were exposed to PCP in the past two years in Nevada, according to 2010 and 2011 data from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center. Both were treated at a hospital and released.
Nationwide, that number hit double-digits in 2010 when 16 children in that same age bracket ingested PCP, according to the most recent annual report by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
“One case is too many,” Teele said. “It is quite alarming.”
Even so, police said drug ingestions in Las Vegas have been dropping since 40 cases were reported in 2010. Those cases include all minors younger than 18; drugs ingested ranged from over-the-counter and prescription medications to illegal drugs, Teele said.
Such ingestions typically come to light after children wind up in the hospital and show symptoms consistent with drug impairment, Teele said. Hospital staff test for drug exposure and notify authorities if results come back positive, she said.
Cases can range from toddlers swallowing prescription pills that mistakenly fell on the floor to children ingesting illegal drugs found stashed in the house, Teele said.
With prescription medication, “I don’t think we are as diligent as we could be ensuring bottle tops are closed and medicine is put in places secure and away from children,” she said.
Authorities said it’s often the same situation with illegal drugs, possibly compounded by lack of supervision.
“When you are using illicit drugs, it impairs your ability to maybe recognize a potentially hazardous situation,” Teele said.
Parents or caregivers in either situation could face felony child neglect charges, depending on the outcome of the investigation, police said.
Authorities urge anyone who suspects children may be living in unsafe environments to contact law enforcement or Child Protective Services.
“We really need to be the eyes and the ears of our population that has no voice,” Teele said.