During methamphetamine's heyday in the Rogue Valley, Medford Police Sergeant Greg Lemhouse, who is running for an Ashland City Council seat, said his department was forced to remove kids from families at least once a day.

"It's absolutely disgusting what we see in those homes," he said. "Honestly, that's what frightens me, knowing those kids are growing up without a chance for a future."

Jan Hall, an intake supervisor for the child welfare division of Jackson County's Department of Human Services, has seen firsthand the destruction meth has caused to families and described for the Tidings one child welfare check that stands out in her mind.

"The stench is the first thing that hits you," she said. "And the houses are always dark because the windows are closed and the drapes are always drawn so no one can see what's going on inside the house.

"This particular house had a lot of people inside," said Hall. "I don't think they all lived there, they just seemed to be flopping there. And they were all dirty, very unclean, and just seemed zoned out.

"Another thing common in meth homes is that nothing ever gets thrown away. Everything that's brought into the home, like fast food bags and wrappers and pizza boxes, just get tossed on the floor. Dirty dishes are piled up in the sink and on the counter. The laundry never gets done and it just accumulates in piles on the floor.

"This house had three huge Rottweiler dogs and a boa constrictor and the dogs never got let out of the house to go to the bathroom. So they just urinated and pooped on everything on the floor. My feet actually squished when I walked on the carpet.

"The toilet wasn't functioning. But people were still using it. It was filled to the rim with urine and excrement.

"There were cockroaches, flies and maggots on everything. There were even maggots in the refrigerator and freezer. I've been at this job for a long time, but this was the first time I ever gagged.

And then Hall saw the lice-infested children, a 3-, 2- and 1-year-old, all within reach of meth, weapons and booze.

"We couldn't even tell what sex they were. And they all had this blank look on their faces""like their souls were gone," she said. "Unless you've seen it, there's no other way to describe it."

Hall said all of the children went on to be adopted.

"And I do think there's hope for them now""hope for their futures," she said. "And I think there's hope for their parents as well."

Hall said she doesn't recall ever having to remove children from a meth house in Ashland.

"If we have, it would be very rare," she said. "In Ashland, most of our cases involve marijuana or domestic abuse."

Hall, who's been with DHS for 10 years, said overall meth use is declining in the county. "Last year, 55 percent of our cases involved meth. This year it's down to 16 percent."

She attributes the decline to the Southern Oregon Meth Project, a three-year initiative established by KOBI TV in Medford, KOTI TV in Klamath Falls and community partners to educate the public about the dangers of meth.

"I think the public is beginning to understand that meth is not a fun, recreational drug," Hall said. "It sucks you in before you even know it &

and then it takes over your entire life."