Tuesday, September 29, 2015

First story in series examines West Virginia's rising epidemic of babies born addicted to drugs

The number of babies born addicted to drugs in West Virginia is on the rise, Darlene Swiger reports for The Exponent Telegram in the first of a series exploring the impact the largely rural state's drug epidemic has on young people. In 2014, the number of drug-addicted babies was 106 cases per 1,000 admissions, up from 21 cases per 1,000 admissions in 2010, according to the Family and Child Tracking System. So far this year, 79 confirmed cases have been reported. (Swiger photo: Misty Harlow, UHC nurse manager of labor and delivery, administers medication to a baby suffering symptoms of drug withdrawal.)

In Harrison County—home of Clarksburg, where the Telegram is based—50 percent of the 1,050 babies born last year "were born to mothers who used drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or caffeine, with half of those babies needing treatment for withdrawal symptoms, according to Lee Ann Romeo, United Hospital Center patient educator and supervisor for maternal child health," Swiger writes. UHC screens every expectant mother for amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, opiates, benzodiazepines, PCP and marijuana. Typically, babies with these symptoms remain in the hospital for 21 to 52 days, said Misty Harlow, nurse manager of labor and delivery.

At West Virginia University Medicine Children’s Center, anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of the  approximately 1,500 babies born each year have been exposed to substances, said spokesperson Angela Jones-Knopf, Swiger writes.

Harlow told Swiger, "We question mothers about their drug use and any prescriptions. We make an automatic social service consult. The social worker will talk to the mother, and then there is a child protective service referral. Through that process, a determination is made if the mother gets to take custody of the baby. Many times, it comes down to a supportive family unit to help take care of the baby. A very small percentage are placed in custody of the state.”

Swiger writes, "Once a referral is assigned, the child protective worker reviews the family’s available records and history of past involvement with the state Department of Health and Human Resources." After a face-to-face meeting with the family "the worker obtains identifying information about the father and thoroughly assesses the family, including garnering records and information from the hospital, doctors, teachers and drug counselors. A protection plan is initiated before the child is discharged. The follow-ups continue at home and through other services."

The problem is that officials lack enough data about what happens to the babies when they get older, Swiger writes. Harlow told her, "It’s only been an epidemic for about three or four years. We don’t know the effect it’s going to have on them at school age. We fear that’s where our true problems are going to start.” (Read more)

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