Opiate-Addicted Infants On Rise In Ohio

Listen to the Story

Prescription drugs.(Photo: e-MagineArt (flickr))
Prescription drugs.(Photo: e-MagineArt (flickr))

Despite efforts by federal and local leaders to curb drug abuse area hospitals report a spike in prescription drug addictions among newborns. Area hospitals are responding with a combination of treatment and better diagnoses.

Irritability, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea those are just some of the side effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or what doctors call “withdrawal babies.”

“Babies undergo a full-blown narcotic withdrawal,” Dr. Jonathan Wispe is a neo-natologist at Columbus Children’s Hospital. He’s been taking care of infants for 30 years.

“These babies can be very sick. And I’ve seen two or three of them die, and plenty of them have seizures or get life-threateningly ill,” Wispe said.

Columbus Children’s Hospital operates six neo-natal units in several area hospital. Numbers show more than a doubling of withdrawal cases from 2008 to 2010. Two-hundred-sixty-four babies were treated at five units.

“It’s not going down. You may see some variation within the hospitals but as a whole it’s not going down. We’re just seeing more and more of them,” Wispe said.

Wispe attributed most of the withdrawals to prescription drugs – opiates, mainly, such as Oxycontin and Percocet.

It’s tough to say just how many babies in Ohio are born addicted to prescription drugs each year. Hospitals are not required to report them to the state. Some hospitals track the numbers, others don’t.

Ohio State University Medical Center reports as many as 100 infants were treated for opiate addictions during the past year.

And Columbus hospitals are not alone. The number of babies seen at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s neo-natal units has nearly doubled since 2009. Two-hundred-fifty-three babies have been seen so far this year – with five month left.

In Scioto County, where state officials recently cracked down on so-called pill mills, one in ten babies born at the Southern Ohio Medical Center is addicted.
Scioto County Health Commissioner Dr. Aaron Adams said prescription addiction among infants is under reported.

“The prescription drugs with the development of Oxycontin has just seemed to grow like crazy,” Aaron Adams said.

Dr. Darren Adams – no relation to Aaron Adams – is an obstetrician at the Southern Ohio Medical Center and Scioto County Coroner. He said ten percent does not fully represent the scope of the problem.

“Actually that percentage right now I think is going to climb because it’s not 100 percent testing. I think that’s actually a lower number than what we’re going to see,” Dr. Darren Adams said.

Most hospitals do not test moms for drugs when they register for delivery unless there’s a suspicion of addiction such as late or no pre-natal care or a positive drug screen during pregnancy.

Dr. Aaron Adams said Scioto County initially addressed adult and teenage prescription drug addiction. But, “We needed to take care of the people who didn’t have a decision in what was going on with their lives, particularly the newborns. So I think within the last year we started working much harder to identify the problems and try to improve our testing.”

Scioto County is leading the state on treating withdrawal babies. SOMC is using a new screening method called Cord Stat. It screens the umbilical cord blood of infants whose mothers test positive for drugs. It checks for 12 drugs including prescriptive opiates. Dr. Darren Adams said they’re considering drug testing all moms.

“That way we might be able to catch more of these babies before they’re sent home. Because if they withdraw at home, if mom doesn’t know the signs and symptoms, it may increase the risk of abuse. Or who knows what’s going to happen at home,” Dr. Darren Adams said.

Tomorrow a personal story from a Central Ohio mom recovering from an addition to prescription drugs.

Comments