Number of babies born addicted to drugs increasing

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - New numbers show babies born addicted to drugs like prescription medication has tripled in the past decade.

It's more than 13,000 infants a year, or one drug-addicted baby born each hour.

Some doctors said the increase in prescription drug abuse has something to do with it, since prescription drugs aren't illegal moms may not realize the harm they're causing their baby.

Local doctors in southeast Missouri said babies born addicted to prescription drug, or any drug, is a growing problem in our area.

"The baby has to go cold turkey at the moment the baby is born," said Neonatologist Paul Caruso, at Southeast Hospital.

It's like a drug addict cutting off his or her drug supply.

"Tremulousness, jitteriness, hyperglycemia, even seizures, early on, first couple days of life, it can be really really frightening," said Pediatrician Mary Kay Bowen with Twin Rivers Pediatrics in Kennett, MO.

The addict is a tiny baby.

"It's important that people understand, whatever the mother is putting in her system, or her body, the baby is actually getting in its body also," said Caruso.

Caruso said in the last decade he's seen an increase of drug use in women of child bearing age, and therefore an increase in the number of babies born addicted to some sort of drug.

Caruso said out of the approximate 1,000 babies born each year at Southeast Hospital, 12 of them are born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and he said 20-30 percent are born to mothers who used some type of drug during pregnancy.

"Often we place the baby on Morphine or Codeine and have to take them off that drug over 4 - 6 weeks," said Caruso.

According to doctors, effects from the pre-birth drug use includes shaking, seizures, low birth weight, sleeping problems, and brain damage to name a few. It's also been linked to lower IQ levels, and difficulties in school.

"That's the problem with all these drugs, they interfere with these very important early signals that tell the body how to grow," said Bowen.

Bowen started practicing children's medicine, in the 1980s, and said she's seen the number of infants born addicted to drugs triple since then.

"When I see a nice, normal, healthy looking baby, come in for a well child check, I just want to skip down the hall, they're so rare," said Bowen.

Doctors said sometimes a baby can appear to be fine and healthy at the hospital, but when they're home for a few weeks, can start to show signs of the drugs.

"These can be very difficult babies to take care of, and if you already have a high stressed environment at home, due to the continued drug use which was unrecognized, this can be a recipe for disaster," said Caruso.

A disaster that all starts with drug use during pregnancy.

"Once that's done, there's no medicines, there's no therapy, there's no nothing that changes that," said Bowen. "We never quite make it back to what it could have been."

Dr. Caruso said if you're pregnant and on drugs, you should talk to your doctor. He said going "cold turkey" isn't necessarily the answer, because that can cause the mother to have seizures during a withdrawal, and affect the baby. So he said talk to your doctor about what's best.

Copyright 2012 KFVS. All rights reserved.