According to the Tennessee Department of Health, the number of babies born with drug dependencies is higher than ever.
By the first week of October this year, nearly 650 babies in Tennessee were born drug dependent, reports NBC affiliate WBIR. That’s more than the entire year of 2011, when 629 babies were born drug dependent.
The majority of these babies are not crack babies, reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press, but are dependent on drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and methadone.
Dr. Gary Bell, a neonatologist in Erlanger hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, says the babies’ withdrawal symptoms are often very severe.
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“They just don’t make eye-to-eye contact with caregivers the way sweet little babies usually do,” said Bell. “They sweat. They get red marks from writhing around. It’s heartbreaking.”
Other withdrawal symptoms include tremors, cramps and seizures, adds the Times Free Press. Babies will often cry inconsolably, eat too fast or not eat at all.
According to Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, the majority of these babies are born to mothers using substances prescribed to them by a health care provider.
Just over 42 percent of these mothers were using prescription drugs for legitimate treatment. About 20 percent of pregnant mothers were using a combination of prescribed and non-prescribed medications, and 33 percent of mothers were using substances obtained illegally.
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The Times Free Press notes that Tennessee state officials are “fighting the growing problem on several fronts,” including education efforts and more detailed prescription warnings. The state also has a new controlled substance database, allowing doctors to access each patient’s prescription history.
“Trying to prevent this is a very worthy goal,” Bell added. “But that will ultimately have to depend on a society program — not just a medical program.”
WBIR adds that the average cost for a baby born dependent on drugs is nearly $67,000.
The Tennessee Department of Health anticipates that nearly 800 babies in the state will be born drug dependent by the end of 2013.