The Herald Bulletin

November 19, 2013

Tiny addicts reach alarming numbers

State officials urge legislators to create new laws to improve public health problem

By Traci L. Moyer
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — An alarming increase in the rate of drug dependency is being reported by some of Indiana’s newest citizens and state officials want to curb the problem.

The addicts are newborns.

A high-pitch scream of a newborn experiencing withdrawal is unmistakable, said Deidre Kettery, OB clinical manager for Community Hospital Anderson.

“It’s almost panicked,” she said. “They are shaky and inconsolable.”

The condition, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), occurs when expecting mothers take drugs that create the addictions in newborns. Babies diagnosed with NAS are given morphine and kept in the hospital until they can be weaned off the drugs.

During their withdrawal, infants are fussy, hard to calm down, have diarrhea, bad rashes, vomiting and life-threatening seizures.

Both legal and illegal narcotics have been linked to the withdrawals in newborns including cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methadone, codeine, oxycodone, OxyContin, Vicodin, Ritalin, Adderall, Paxil, Zoloft, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin and barbiturates, according to the National Institute of Health.

A task force comprised of both Indiana medical and legal experts is pushing for a law that would allow closer monitoring of mothers using drugs that cause NAS. The law would also provide some protection for expectant mothers if they voluntarily seek and stay in treatment for any addictions.

Natalie Robinson, coordinator of the Attorney General’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, told members of the legislative Commission on Mental Health and Addiction the problem has reached epidemic levels.

“Even more startling than the higher risks, is the pain and suffering that a newborn with NAS endures after birth,” she told the commission in October.

Dr. Teri Schulz-Compton, a pediatrician with St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital, said the problem is serious for a variety of reasons.

“The number is definitely growing,” she said of the number of children born with NAS in Madison County. “Nobody really knows what the long-term developmental effects are or the baby’s ability to learn later.”

According to a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of newborns that have opiate drug withdrawal is more than triple what it was in just the last decade.

Schulz-Compton said there is a lack of education and prenatal care available for pregnant women who have addictions.

“Education is the key,” she said. “All of the medications a mom takes during her pregnancy pass through to the baby. They need to get prenatal care so they have someone advising them what is safe to use.”

“We also need better mental health services or access to better mental health services.”

Robinson had told the committee that the “extreme shortage” of drug treatment services and medical professionals who are willing to treat expecting women with addictions is not helping to address the problem.

The task force hopes there will be new legislative measures passed in the next session including the requirement of all health providers to report cases of NAS to the state health department, regulation of prescription pain-killers like Tramadol and an increase in penalties for abusing or giving the drugs to others.

Other states, such as Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia and California, have made combating prescription drug abuse a priority with mandatory continuing education on pain management or specials laws for pregnant women who have addictions.

“We are all responsible for the children around us,” Schulz-Compton said. “This is not a healthy thing for a community at large and the better we get a hold of the problem the better off we will all be.”

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