By Joseph Raspolich
The US has been seeing a recent spike in drug addicted babies, born to addicted mothers. The ongoing opioid epidemic is largely to blame.
In recent years, it has become a common story: An injury puts someone in the hospital, the doctors prescribe powerful painkillers, and the addictive power of opioids does its work. Not all opioid addictions come from prescribed drugs; some may come from night club scenes and illegally purchased clinical grade substances, but, either way, the path often leads to a sinister addiction. When pills become too expensive or difficult to buy, heroin is the next best thing. The US has seen massive spikes in opioid addiction and overdose.
Since it can start with a back alley drug deal or a perfectly legal prescription for a broken collarbone, addiction has spread across a variety of demographics. Because of this, the US is seeing a dramatic increase in the otherwise least likely addicts: newborn infants.
We’ve known about fetal alcohol syndrome and “crack babies” in the mainstream since the war on drugs of the 80s and 90s, but today’s opioid addicted infants are something relatively new. In recent years, this problem has mostly revolved around the rise of prescription painkiller abuse.
OxyContin, morphine, and other opiates are highly addictive and painful to withdraw from. Babies can inherit this addiction from addicted mothers, and the first thing they experience when they are born is withdrawal. This phenomenon is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), and it saw a five-fold increase in occurrences between 2000 and 2012. In 2013, almost 1,000 babies were born to opiate drug-addicted mothers in Tennessee. That same year in Massachusetts, the rate of birth-induced addiction was 17.5 per 1,000 births — over 3x the national average. These are only a few states, and the problem is huge for the whole county.
Why NAS Happens
Most mothers would recoil at the thought of consuming harmful substances during pregnancy. It’s common practice for mothers to give up smoking and drinking during their pregnancy. So why would a mother consume something as harmful as heroin or opioids?
There are a number of reasons why an addicted mother might not be able to overcome addiction for the sake of her child. Here are few key factors:
- Opioids are powerfully addictive, and it can be all but impossible, and even dangerous, to quit them and detox on your own.
- Mothers are often afraid to seek help for fear of legal trouble and the potential to lose their child when someone finds out they are an addict.
- Hospitals are hesitant to accept drug addicted mothers. Since opioids are difficult to detox from especially when pregnancy is involved, it can be a long and delicate process. Hospitals may be afraid of the backlash if treatment fails or of the cost associated with treatment.
When hospitals do accept a drug addicted mother, their focus is often to treat the baby, neglecting the mother or cutting her out of the process entirely. Some hospitals have begun re-thinking their practice in these cases, attempting to treat both mother and baby, with the mother’s help.
Treating Addicted Babies and their Mothers
Treating addicted babies and mothers involves a careful detox process. While some detoxifications involve removing the regular dosage of the drug and mitigating withdrawal symptoms, opioid withdrawal can be deadly. When an infant is involved, the safest way to treat the addiction is to carefully wean the child off the drug with decreasing doses of morphine.
When all is said and done, this complicated and risky process can cost thousands of dollars per patient. However, the opioid epidemic rages on and healthcare professionals are looking for new solutions.
As the national opioid epidemic gets worse, individual states are pioneering their own efforts to deal with the problem of drug-addicted mothers. Here are three of the recent efforts of 3 states and their doctors, politicians, and concerned individuals:
- Indiana – In 2014, now U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer, addressing drug-addicted mothers in his state of Indiana. According to the Senator, the state had the 3rd highest drug-induced death rate and has seen a 3,000% increase in infant drug withdrawals since 2000. In response, he introduced legislation called “Protecting Our Infants Act,” which is designed to promote treatment and research on this problem at the national level. The bill became law in November of 2015.
- West Virginia – The Drug-Free Mother Baby Greenbrier Valley program was started in 2012 to help in an area where 20% of babies are born to drug-addicted mothers. It’s one of 4 similar statewide efforts to treat addiction before birth occurs. Already, it’s seen success stories. WVNSTV reported that 68% of mothers get clean between pregnancy tests and birth and 67% also get clean between prenatal check-ups.
- Pennsylvania – The Magee-Women’s Hospital at UPC recently launched an outpatient treatment program for drug-addicted mothers, which seeks to improve treatment in two crucial ways. First, it uses the opioid replacement drug buprenorphine (an active ingredient in Suboxone and Subutex, which has been described as “Methadone 2.0”). Studies indicated it’s just as effective as methadone, but without the painful side effects of detox. Secondly, the Magee program prescribes buprenorphine weekly instead of daily. This will give poorer mothers incentive to stick with the program, whereas they are often unable to go to methadone clinics, where methadone must be dispensed daily.
Hopefully, as more programs are developed in response to the opioid epidemic, mothers who have become enslaved by addiction will have more options that allow and encourage them to seek safe treatment options. Today, there are treatment centers all over the country that offer hope to those who are touched by the opioid crisis.
Are You Ready To Seek Help?
If you are someone you love is affected by opioids, heroin, or other addictive substances, the right treatment facility can help. Call Pathway to Hope today at 844-557-8575 to learn more about your treatment options.