In the first of the The Early Show's three-part series on methamphetamine abuse, CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi finds out firsthand about what law enforcement officials have called nation's leading
They say it's more insidious than cocaine, and endangers the welfare of children unlike any other drug.
Social workers call them, "meth orphans," and they are stretching an already strained child welfare system to its limit.
Marshall Tyner runs a state shelter for children in Tulsa, Okla., called Laura Dester Shelter. "This building, right now, is licensed for 15 children," he says. "We currently have 28 children."
And during CBS News' four-hour visit, four new, frightened kids are brought in.
"Would you like a hug?" Tyner ask a child, who just shakes head no and adds, "I just want my mom."
The shelter is supposed to be a temporary stopping point between troubled homes and foster care.
Tyner notes, "Theoretically, children under 6 should move out of here within 24 hours."
But they don't. Foster homes are backed up and children now stay at the shelter for weeks or sometime months. Staff members say it feels more like an orphanage than a shelter.
In 14 years, Tyner says he never thought he would see anything like this. This new generation of helpless victims is an unforeseen problem in the meth epidemic. The drug increases sexual drive. The result is more babies, many of whom are neglected and sometimes even sexually abused. As packed as the shelter is, it's better than home.
Tyner says, "Well at least no one here is trying to have sex with them; no one is beating them, and they get fed on a regular basis."
Holding a baby from the shelter, Alfonsi points out the little girl is less than a week old. A nurse says the girl is there because she tested positive for drugs.
Workers usually have two children on their laps at any given time. It's a struggle sometimes just to remember names. Cues cards tell their stories. One reads: "Jacob 17 mo. can't walk."
Tyner says, "We're looking at a lot of formula, a lot of diapers we hadn't planned on."
Meth abuse is a rural phenomenon and many small towns just don't have the resources to support the children who need help or the addicted parents who want help.
Caseworker Leslie Beyer says, "They need 10 to 12 months of in-patient treatment. There are no services. There is no money for that."
A young mom, who started using meth when she was 14, says, "The police raided me and my boyfriend's house, and they took my daughter from me. It didn't seem to faze me."
She told her caseworker to keep her 7-week-old daughter at the shelter.
"I told her I don't think I can be a mom," she explains, "I don't think I can do this, and now today, it's not like that."
She went to rehab, became a straight-A student, and regained custody of her daughter. But she is the exception.
Beyer says, "I've only had one family in nine years able to get off meth and stay off meth and get their child back."
The rest of the children end up in the shelter, caught in a system that has rescued them, but seems too cramped to save them.