Babies born with addictions to drugs such as cocaine, crack, heroin or even prescription drugs always have a hard time.  The number of these addicted babies has risen in the United States to triple the number from as little as a decade ago.  Approximately 4 out of every 1,000 infants born suffered from some type of drug withdrawal due to the abuse of these drugs by their mothers during pregnancy.  That’s about 13,539 infants a year, or one drug-addicted baby born every hour.

Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, when hospitals saw a surge in babies born addicted to crack cocaine, many newborns today arrive hooked on powerful prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.  The CDC has flagged prescription-painkiller abuse as a major health threat, noting that these drugs now cause more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. And the problem is getting worse.   Many of these mothers tell their doctors they didn’t realize prescription painkillers could harm their babies, perhaps because the drugs are technically legal.

The drugs used by the mother go through the mother’s placenta and is turned into a fat-soluble substance.  It becomes too heavy to leave and circulates over and over again in the baby’s system. The baby continues getting high.  Most babies born with drug addiction usually withdraw from the drugs after about 72 hours. But with crack cocaine, it’s different. Babies born addicted to this drug don’t start suffering withdrawal symptoms until they are about eight weeks old. Then the withdrawal process can last for up to two years.

What should a woman do if she finds herself addicted to drugs and pregnant?

She should do everything in her power to stop taking drugs.  It has long been known that whatever a woman takes in pregnancy will almost always cross over to the unborn child.  Alcoholic mothers greatly increase their baby’s risk of alcoholics developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Children born to women battling drug addiction are not only at risk of becoming dependent on drugs.  They can have a smaller birth weight.  They can have problems with sleeping and with developing mentally which is a catch-22 if a mother is a drug addict because she can also abuse the child due to her own psychological problems, high expectations and lack of patience.

Treating drug-addicted babies

Most of them are covered by the publicly financed Medicaid program, with a cost of $720 million in 2009.  The country has an obligation to help these newborns, who “have made no choices around drug abuse and addiction” and are “the most vulnerable and the most blameless” members of society

If it has been established that a child’s development has been affected, much can be done to correct it or deal with it in ways that can help the child learn and progress more effectively.   If you are pregnant and on drugs or alcohol, then the best thing you can do as a parent is to get professional drug addiction treatment, not just for yourself but for your child as well.

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