WKYT Investigates | Addicted babies: Danville hospital makes special nursery for growing problem

DANVILLE, Ky. (WKYT) - For every 10 babies born at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, one baby is born addicted to drugs.

Stephanie Kilby, who manages labor and delivery and the baby nurseries at Ephraim McDowell, said nursery staff started noticing the increase in neonatal abstinence syndrome — infants newborn withdrawal — a couple of years ago. "We realized that we could possibly treat the babies here instead of sending them to (University of Kentucky Hospital)," Kilby said.

"We developed a plan to take care of these babies," Kilby explained. They sent the staff to conferences to learn how to care for babies withdrawing from the drugs their mother took while they were in the womb. Now, sitting next to the normal baby nursery, is a quiet, dark room called the Special Care Nursery. "The stimulation of the light and noise (in the normal nursery) can really effect their withdrawal and make it harder on them for the withdrawal symptoms."

The Special Care Nursery is rarely empty. Babies withdrawing in that room are on a dose of oral morphine given to them typically every three hours. The goal is to keep the babies comfortable, but still have them react to being hungry and wet like a typical newborn.

Kilby said a big part of making life easier for the newborns is keeping them near their mothers. "That's who they've bonded with for nine months and that's who they need to stay with." Kilby said that was the main reason for making a nursery just for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. "They come off what we give them for withdrawal quicker when mom's around."

Last summer, WKYT visited the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UK Children's Hospital. At any given time, nurses there said about 25 percent of the babies in the NICU are withdrawing from opiates. Dr. Henrietta Bada said the incidence of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in Kentucky has increased almost 20-fold from the year 2000 to 2013.

Health officials say the increase at Ephraim McDowell is yet the latest example of a growing problem that needs to be addressed.

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