As one of the top ranking states in America with the highest rates of prescription drug abuse, Tennessee is paying the price by having more and more babies born with symptoms of withdrawal from prescription pain medications.
The East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit is proof of the condition as nearly half of the newborn babies are affected with prescription drugs withdrawal symptoms. Babies who are exposed to prescription medications while in the womb suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS brought about by the mother’s abuse of painkillers.
Dr. John Buchheit, neonatal director at the Children’s Hospital, said that in the past 17 years that he has been in service at the facility, he is used to dealing with premature babies or babies born with respiratory distress. “But I had no idea that we would be seeing this issue, to this degree.”
In a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, 55-94% of babies exposed to opioids while in the womb show signs of withdrawal as soon as they are born. This happens when a pregnant woman uses narcotics and passes it to her baby through the placenta. As the baby is born, his supply of drugs is cut off which leads him to the withdrawal stage.
Babies born in such condition often cry constantly and are easily agitated. They are also extra sensitive to light and sound and can suffer from seizures.
Prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic in the state of Tennessee with about 33% of pregnant women hooked on pain medications causing the number of babies born suffering from withdrawal symptoms to double from 2010 to 2011.
Department of Children’s Services Attorney Susan Kovac said state case workers are working on the double to accommodate the increasing number of babies affected with NAS. “We come and talk to the mom and try to find out, what’s the level of her abuse, what’s the level of her addiction, what can we do to get her clean so that she can be in a position to take care of her baby,” Kovac said.