Drug dependent newborn numbers down, but advocates say more progress needed

Published: Jan. 23, 2019 at 6:21 PM EST
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State health officials report the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) has dropped slightly over the last year.

In 2017, there were 1,234 babies born with NAS, and in 2018 the number was 1,114.

"It hasn't dropped off the map," Dr. Connie White with the Department for Public Health told WKYT Investigates. "It tells me there's a trend that these moms are getting more treatment possibly."

White believes medically assisted treatment for mothers before delivery is slowing the numbers. She said it may not stop a baby's complete withdrawal, but it tends to make it easier on the baby by not requiring pharmaceutical help to wean the baby. White's biggest concern is making sure there are enough treatment facilities for pregnant women to access.

NAS is a syndrome Melinda Lawless knows all too well. She has adopted two children who were born with NAS.

"There were days where the only thing I could do was sit in a warm shower, clothed, holding a baby clothed, and just the water, that was all that would calm him down," Lawless remembered.

Her son is now in school.

"The doctor said, 'I don't know how this kid is alive,' when he got the toxicology screen back," she said.

"They don't eat well, they don't sleep well, diarrhea," Dr. White said as he listed some of the side effects when babies are born with drugs in their systems. "We have an epidemic of epidemics. We have an opioid use disorder epidemic, we have a Hepatitis C epidemic, we have an NAS epidemic."

White said there is no way to know right now what the long-term effects of NAS will be for children.

Lawless still holds anger toward those who take drugs while pregnant.

"No child should have to go through that," she said. "When you are an adult and you make a decision, the effects are on you. It just breaks my heart that so many people make this decision and these children suffer."

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