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Addicted Infants in Tennessee

It’s a troubling article to read. The Chattanooga Time Free Press lays out the disturbing details on babies born with drugs in their systems, a terrible condition that’s on the rise in our state.

Just as troubling, the drugs showing up aren’t necessarily from the street – prescription drug abuse is so prevalent, narcotics originating in pharmacies are dominating the picture. Having drugs like oxycodone or other opioids in their systems means the newborn has to start life out withdrawing from these powerful pain medications. Withdrawal is always ugly, but infants don’t have the physical resources adults do, so the vomiting and diarrhea can cause real problems.

According to the article, the number of babies born in Tennessee who are drug dependent has risen, exceeding those from 2011 in the first nine months of this year. And it costs us much more as well to treat these babies, with the average TennCare costs for a healthy newborn at $4,237 and for those that undergo withdrawal at $66,973.

This is the part of drug addiction supporters of legalization ignore – the real world consequences of addiction that extend outward, affecting more than the addict alone. Our permissiveness with prescription narcotics is coming back to bite us.

What can be done? Unfortunately, there are no ready answers. Mothers can be prosecuted for “chemical endangerment of a child” and social services can get involved. But do we really want to jail addicted mothers? Treating the addiction is possible if caught early enough in the pregnancy, but stopping the narcotic might also endanger the child, as the risk for miscarriage goes up. Some doctors will try to slowly decrease the dosage of the opioid in a gradual weaning process – whether this is a good idea depends on how well the mother can be monitored and how deeply addicted they are going in.

The ultimate answer will have to be a lowering of women who are addicted in the first place, including a dependence on other classes of addictive drugs, like anti-anxiety products and sleeping pills. Women should discuss the issue with their physician as early in the pregnancy as possible and get guidance before making any changes to the medications they take.


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