Newborn Heroin Addicts Show Need for Parental Ohio Drug Class

by Mike Miller May 26, 2012

Adena Health System (http://www.adena.org/) is applying for grant money to help stem the tide of babies being born to drug-addicted mothers.

According to Adena, and reported in chillicothegazette.com, in the past seven months, women at the new Women and Children's Center have given birth to 47 babies who have tested positive for opiates in their bodies -- including heroin -- because of substance-abusing mothers. Ten of those babies had to be treated for opiate addiction before they could be released from the hospital.

For one of those 10, the addiction was so severe it took 42 days before the baby was safe enough to be allowed to leave the hospital.

The total number of births at the center during that seven-month period was not available at press time.

Opiates are types of narcotics that act as depressants in the central nervous system.

"It's definitely a problem, and southern Ohio seems to be seeing a lot more than other places," said center nursing director Jackie Rebman. "Unfortunately, this area also is strapped for funding to help with the problem.

"We need resources for moms. Ideally, drug-addicted moms need help at the beginning of their pregnancy so they are clean during the pregnancy and have an opportunity to deliver a healthy baby."

Heroin use has become a concern across Ohio and locally, with Pike County Sheriff Richard Henderson saying this past fall that he had seen more heroin overdose deaths in 2010 than in the entire previous decade. The drug is becoming a substitute for prescription drug abusers, Henderson said, because it is cheaper and becoming easier to obtain than some prescription drugs.

Heroin is making its mark in Ross County, resulting in a September summit in Ross County that brought area officials and agencies together to learn more about opiate addiction and how to combat both it and prescription drug abuse.

Battling the addiction itself is not the only type of help needed, however. Sarah Fallow, nurse manager of nursery and pediatrics at Adena, said mental health issues often need to be addressed as well. Those issues often contribute to the substance abuse, Fallow said, and many abusers often are using more than one illicit drug.

Rebman agreed, saying that she has seen several cases in which the women don't appear to want to abuse drugs but they can't find a way to break the addiction.

Rebman also said although she hasn't seen firsthand any data that clearly shows the long-term effect on babies born to drug-addicted mothers, she is worried about what the effects might be -- especially with the increase showing up locally.

"There have always been cases of drug abuse in this area, but we have seen not only an increase in the extent of usage, but also in the type of drug being abused. Opiate addiction right now is a major problem. It has transpired from being the pill type of opiate to something as extreme as heroin."

The March of Dimes, which researches factors that affect the health of babies, indicates the long-term outlook for babies exposed to heroin before birth depends on several factors -- among them whether the child is born prematurely and whether there are other complications during birth. The organization pointed to some studies that suggest a higher risk of learning and behavioral problems might be a result of heroin use by the mother.

Adena Women and Children's Center staff is working with Kim Jones, grants manager for the Adena Health Foundation, to pursue funding to help expectant moms with substance abuse problems through social work support and addiction treatment programming. The center is hoping that federal funding will be available through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Health Resources and Services Administration.

While awaiting the results of that effort, Rebman said the center staff is trying its own treatment approach, focusing on changing the mindset of addicted moms-to-be.

"If you provide dignity and support to these patients during the few days you have them, you might be the one who changes their perspective and helps to get them off these drugs," she said.

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