Comprehensive series looks at new angle of prescription pain pill epidemic: addicted newborns

The Courier-Journal‘s health reporter, Laura Ungar, is again delving into the prescription pain-pill epidemic in Kentucky, this time focusing on babies who are born addicted. For any reporter interested in writing stories about prescription pill addiction and the scope of the problem — stories that could be localized in every county in the state — Ungar’s award-winning work is the place to start researching.

In a four-page piece, Ungar looks at:
• the limited options available to addicted moms
• the lack of funding available to fix the problem
• what to do for loved ones with a prescription drug problem
• the causes, symptoms and treatment for newborn addicts

There are also links to more recent stories pertaining to the issue here.

Ungar found hospitalizations for addicted newborns increased from 29 in 2000 to 730 last year, when there was a big jump. “It’s a silent epidemic that’s going on out there,” said Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “You need to say: ‘Stop the madness. This is too much.'”

Nurse Tonya Anderson, an infant development/touch therapist at Kosair Children’s Hospital, said she’s seen as many as 14 of 26 babies in the special-care nursery where she works suffer from symptoms of withdrawal. “They are just agitated,” she said. “They are screaming. They have tremors. Their faces — you have to grimace. They’re in pain.”

Those close to the problem say there is not enough treatment for addicts who are pregnant. But it’s an investment worth making, Ungar suggests. One study showed the health-care costs for addicted newborns was $720 million in 2009, up from $190 million in 2000. Babies with addictions stay about 16.4 days in the hospital, which costs an average of $53,300 per infant. In 80 percent of those cases, Medicaid pays the bill.

Researchers estimate that more than 13,5000 babies were born addicted in 2009. “We knew that it was common, but we would not expect this problem would have tripled in the last decade,” said Dr. Matthew Davis, an associate professor at the University of Michigan and one of the study’s authors. “There are not many medical problems that have tripled in a decade — not obesity, not heart disease, not diabetes.” (Read more)

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