I Am Addicted 2

Born into Addiction

Posted on: September 11, 2011


Babies of drug-addicted mothers — and those who love them — are forced into a life full of horrors, worries and heartache

By Samantha PerryThe Bluefield Daily TelegraphSat Jul 29, 2006, 08:15 PM EDT

He was a Meth Baby. Not quite 1 day old, he was suffering effects of drug addiction when his grandmother and great grandmother saw him for the first time at Charleston Women and Children’s Hospital.

Born almost four weeks premature in 2004 at a Mercer County hospital, he was transported to Charleston within hours after his birth.

“He was having trouble breathing,” said his great grandmother, who will be referred to as Mary to protect the family’s privacy. “They couldn’t do anything for him here.”

The baby’s mother and Mary’s grandson, his father, are not married. And doctors, required by law to protect a patient’s privacy, could not tell him the infant’s mother was using methadone throughout her pregnancy.

He and his family found out when complications began after the infant’s delivery.

“We called to check on the baby and they told us they had sent him to the (Charleston) hospital,” she said. “My grandson told us why. It was the first we knew.”

Mary and her daughter, both from the Princeton area, rushed to Charleston to see the infant.

“He was laying there in a little basket,” she said. “I’ll never forget it. They had a little hat on his head, and they had oxygen on him. They had a feeding tube through his navel. They had him on antibiotics. They had another IV running through him, I guess detoxing him, and he would lay there and jerk and twist.”

Mary asked nurses if she could hold the infant, but was told she could only talk to him.

“It’s a pitiful sight seeing babies like that.”

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Although statistics on the number of babies born addicted and exposed to drugs is sketchy, the numbers are rising dramatically in Mercer County, according to available data and information provided by local physicians.

Last week, the Daily Telegraph first reported a 10-year study at Bluefield Regional Medical Center showed a 760 percent increase in drug exposed infants.

From 1996 to 2001, eight babies were born at BRMC requiring detox, Mercer County Prevention Partnership Coordinator, Matt Smith, said, sighting the study conducted by pediatrician Teresa Frazier, MD. From 2001 to 2006, 61 infants were born needing detox.

“For every one infant born, there were three drug-exposed infants total,” Smith said, referring to Frazier’s study, which was presented at the 2006 West Virginia Prenatal Summit.

Princeton Community Hospital is also experiencing a rise in drug affected babies, Deb Griffith, vice president of marketing and public relations, said.

“We have been seeing the same thing actually,” Princeton pediatrician Asma Safder, MD, said. “We don’t have the data on this, we haven’t counted the numbers, but there has definitely been an increase in the numbers of babies born to drug-addicted moms.”

Most obstetricians now routinely drug test pregnant women, a practice which was not always performed in the past, Safder said.

But drug screens can not solely account for the rise in numbers, she said. Even if mothers were not tested for drugs, withdrawal symptoms would still have been evident in the babies.

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Drug use by pregnant women crosses age and socioeconomic lines, Safder said.

Crack cocaine, stimulants, marijuana, alcohol and opium-derivitaves, such as OxyContin, Dilaudid and Lortab, are among the drugs being used.

The increase in methadone clinics has also resulted in a rise in the number of babies born addicted to this drug.

At methadone clinics, addicts are given the medication to wean them off drugs, Safder said. “It does work for people sincere about coming off drugs. But some are not sincere.”

If a pregnant woman is in a methadone maintenance program, the Department of Health and Human Resources will allow her to keep the baby, Safder said. However, if women are caught using other drugs, “the babies will by yanked from them.”

Drug addicts know this, she said. “Everybody knows this.”

Infants born exposed or addicted to drugs are referred to DHHR, said James Bradley, community services manager at the agency’s Mercer County Bureau of Children and Family.

The babies’ family environment is investigated and the agency then “takes whatever steps the investigation leads up to,” he said.

Infants born addicted to drugs can show a variety of symptoms, including a shrill cry, diarrhea, trembling, vomiting, fever and a refusal to eat. “At worst, it can go into seizures,” Safder said.

Not all babies born to methadone-addicted mothers require detox. “We don’t know why some babies have to go through a detox program,” she said, speculating the difference may be due to the mother’s and infant’s metabolism.

A baby born requiring methadone will be given the amount of medication needed for the infant to eat and grow, she said. “Then, over a length of time, you slowly bring it (the amount of medication) down.”

For Mary’s great grandson, it took almost three weeks for the infant to be weaned off methadone.

“That’s how bad he was on the stuff,” she said.

With other drugs, such as cocaine or marijuana, Safder said alternative medications are used to safely sedate the newborn.

Infants are treated with these procedures at local hospitals, but those with more severe complications are sent to Charleston, she said. “We’ve done a dozen babies right here (at Princeton).”

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The most crucial time for development of an unborn child is the first four to six weeks, so drug use by mothers during the initial stages of pregnancy can affect the baby, Safder said.

She said it is vital for females of child-bearing age “to just not take drugs, because they never know when they are going to get pregnant.”

If a woman addicted to drugs finds out she is pregnant, Safder said she should see an obstetrician immediately and discuss the options of a methadone maintenance program.

When the child is born, the woman should do everything possible to stop using drugs completely to “give the baby a decent life,” she said.

A mother using drugs “won’t be able to take care of the baby like it deserves,” Safder said.

Mary knows this all too well.

The mother of her great grandson had a family support system, so she was able to keep the child, Mary said.

But continued drug use by the mother has been suspected.

Mary’s family retained an attorney and has contacted state agencies numerous times, but to no avail. “We were told, ‘the child belongs to the mother.’”

Since his birth, the father’s family has had visitation with the child each weekend. They like to take him to church, Mary said, her voice beginning to crack with tears, “but we don’t always get him on Sunday mornings.”

Sometimes, Mary said, family members would go to the mother’s house unexpectedly to pick up the baby. “We’ve went in lots of times and she’s been high and didn’t care. We’ve taken him back and she’s been high.”

Mary said her family makes sure the baby has his routine medical care and other necessities, but they still worry.

She recalled one time when the baby was running a high temperature when he was brought for a visit. His mother indicated she knew he had a fever, “but didn’t know why.” When Mary took him to the pediatrician he was diagnosed with strep throat.

“The drugs were more important,” she said.

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Mary has a difficult time understanding why authorities will allow a drug-addicted mother to retain custody of an infant when other family members are willing to take the baby.

“When a mother knows she is pregnant and takes drugs what kind of chance does the baby have?” she said, noting, “when we were up there (Charleston), you wouldn’t believe the babies brought in with the same problem our baby had.”

Mary said she continually prays. “I’ve asked God to please help these babies.”

She was encouraged by a story in last Sunday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph about drug-addicted infants, hoping it will increase awareness among the public about the crisis.

“I just don’t understand the system,” she said. “These children are going to be our generation to come. What’s it going to be like when drug mothers get to take care of them?”

Concerned about her great grandson’s future, Mary speculated, “If they grow up around it they’ll be addicts.”

Recently, the baby’s mother was arrested for drugs. The family reported it to authorities, but nothing was done, Mary said.

“The mother has rights,” she said, repeating, “the mother has rights. That’s what they keep telling us.”

The family is now fighting for custody.

“We are going through it until we get our baby out of that household,” she said.

“It’s time that we try to get these babies in a place where they’ll be taken care of and raised the old-fashioned way — where they’re loved, taken care of and have a good place to sleep.”

Physically, Mary said her great grandson is now doing fine.

“He’s a beautiful baby,” she said. “He’s walking good … and seems to be learning well.”

Yet there is still an uncertainty about potential medical and developmental problems in the future.

“We just don’t know what could happen on down the road.”

— Contact Samantha Perry at sperry@bdtonline.com

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1 Response to "Born into Addiction"

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