Eastern KY hospital sees success with drug to treat addicted moms

Published: Apr. 18, 2016 at 4:52 PM EDT
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Two-hundred babies a year are born at Manchester Memorial Hospital. It's a small number, but just a few years ago, about a quarter of those babies born had to be transferred to Kentucky Children's Hospital because they were suffering from severe drug withdrawal. "The drug problem has always been an issue here in Clay County," explained hospital President Erika Skula. "It is heart-wrenching because they are innocent. They can't do anything about it. The mom is making decisions for the baby," she told WKYT's Miranda Combs.

So last year, the hospital started a Subutex program. Subutex is similar to the treatment drug Suboxone but does not contain Naloxone. "I would say since we've started the Subutex program, we've seen about the same number of substance abuse mothers, but we've seen a lot less withdrawal symptom from the babies," said OB Nurse Kristina Burchfield. She said moms that follow their program, of twice a week checks and constant monitoring from 32 weeks on, are usually able to keep their babies at Manchester Memorial. The percentage of babies transferred is now eight percent instead of the 25 percent from a few years ago.

At Kentucky Children's Hospital, there can be as many as 20 percent of the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit detoxing from drug dependency. "Because these babies are needing treatment, some of them will stay 30 days, some will stay two weeks, and some two months or even longer depending on whether we can capture their symptoms are not," explained Dr. Henrietta Bada.

The number statewide of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)-- or babies born dependent on drugs continues to rise. In the year 2000, there were 29 babies diagnosed with NAS. By 2013, Dr. Bada said the number jumped to 1,000. And in 2014, there were 1,400 babies born dependent on drugs. "We keep seeing these babies and they are helpless and we are the ones that should be taking care of them," Dr. Bada said.

Dr. Bada said babies do still withdraw from Subutex, the treatment drug being used in Manchester. And Burchfield agrees, but has still seen a marked improvement in the severity of the baby's withdrawal symptoms after birth. "All of these moms want to do what's best for their babies, but the drugs have such control over their bodies that mentally and physically they aren't able to stop," Burchfield said.