Babies born hooked on mom's prescription drugs

MUNCIE, Ind. - The cry of a baby in withdrawal isn't quite the same as the whimpers mothers are accustomed to when welcoming their bundle of joy.

These are shrieks -- never ending calls for help -- as these babies withdraw from the narcotics that ran through their bloodstreams for months inside their mothers' wombs. Those yells often become seizures, tremors, sweating battles and high fevers.

These sounds aren't caused only by illegal "street drugs" used by the mother, but more often in recent years from prescription medications. And the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs by pregnant women -- whether intentional or unknowingly -- is on the rise in East Central Indiana.

As far as local child advocates are concerned, the time to do something about this situation is now, The Star Press reported.

"This is a problem that certainly isn't going away. Just last week, four of the 14 babies born in the hospital were going through drug withdrawals," said Donna Wilkins, the Delaware County Health Department medical officer and a neonatologist for Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital. "Sometimes I feel like we're never going to stop this, not without the whole community getting involved. This is a problem not only for us, but the whole country."

On April 6, Prevent Child Abuse of Delaware County -- of which Wilkins is a part -- will hold a free conference open to the public, "Mom & baby: Addiction, trauma and hope."

The group organized an initial conference in 2012 to spread awareness regarding prescription drug addiction and pregnant women specifically for the local medical community, inviting nurses, doctors, pharmacists and hospital administrators to the event.

This year, with the call for community action on the subject, everyone is invited to learn more, as well as offer suggestions to assist women with addictions and their children.

"Whether people realize it or not, this issue affects the entire community," said Pat Garofolo, president of the local PCA. "Educators are affected because we don't yet know how this will effect these children and how they'll perform in school. Employers need to understand how this affects their workers. Young people need to know how these medications can affect them when they get pregnant. This is a community issue."

It's also a growing national issue.

According to an issue in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of babies experiencing what is called "neonatal abstinence syndrome" (NAS) increased by 330 percent across the nation between 2000 and 2009.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has also called on a statewide task force to address the issue, analyzing what has created the problem and how to stop it.

While some women abuse prescription medication by taking it without a prescription, most often pain pills, others are using medications legally prescribed by a doctor because they are not aware of the harmful effects it can have on their unborn baby.

The conference will touch on the different groups of prescription medications that are harmful, as well as examine objectives that address better understanding of addiction as a disease of the brain; the impact of prescription misuse during pregnancy on babies and what is required for successful recovery.

A representative from Zoeller's office will attend the PCA conference to discuss further work between East Central Indiana's efforts at assisting pregnant mothers with addictions.

"We wanted to take this to the next level ... educating the community about this problem. And it's not just a problem for us. It's everywhere," said Alexis Neal, a member of the PCA conference committee. She is also the chief quality coordinator for patient safety for IU Health Indianapolis. "We need everyone involved to get a handle on this."

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