Protecting the babies

Addicted newborns need state intervention to give them a fighting chance
Nov. 29, 2012 @ 11:42 PM

Babies entering this crazy world for the first time shouldn't have to do so burdened with the imperfections and addictions of their mothers. It's tough enough to make it in the world without the added handicap of health problems caused by a mother who failed to put her child first.

Tennessee, among many states, is dealing with an alarming rise in the number of babies born addicted to drugs. A task force of state health officials is trying to reverse that disturbing trend.

Babies born addicted suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), often spending many days in the hospital as they go through the painful withdrawal process, experiencing seizures, tremors, fever and vomiting, the Associated Press reports. The Tennessee Health Department reports that the number of babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome increased tenfold between 2000 and 2010. In the last two years alone, more than a thousand babies have been born dependent on addictive drugs.

To combat the problem, the Health Department will begin requiring hospitals to report babies born with the syndrome beginning on Jan. 1. That's an important step. It won't prevent addictions, but it should get treatment to affected infants quicker and allow doctors to identify such cases faster.

State officials have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to place a black box warning on prescription painkillers that alerts physicians to the harm they can cause a fetus.

The hospital costs of an addicted baby receiving TennCare benefits averaged nearly $41,000 two years ago. That compares to hospital costs of about $7,000 for a baby born in 2010 who received TennCare benefits and was not addicted to drugs.

“Babies suffering from NAS often face a multitude of challenges during the first few weeks of life,” state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said. “I’ve talked with many clinicians across Tennessee who have become used to seeing wounds and illnesses, but even the most seasoned health care workers have a difficult time watching a helpless infant going through the painful process of withdrawal.”

Mothers who get pregnant owe it to themselves and, above all, their babies to be healthy and stop doing things that adversely affect the well-being of their unborn children. If they won't, then it's up to the authorities to step in and do all they can to assist these newborns.