MARQUETTE – According to a recent University of Michigan study, one baby is born addicted to prescription and non-prescription drugs every hour in the United States. Many of these newborns are diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which means they display symptoms of withdrawal from these drugs.
The Superior Health Foundation, formerly the Marquette General Foundation, is launching a multi-year campaign to bring awareness to the heartbreaking issue of babies born addicted to drugs in the Upper Peninsula.
In the Upper Peninsula, the increase in the numbers of these babies over the last few years is staggering. The Marquette General Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the only NICU in the U.P., has seen a 378 percent increase in drug-addicted infants over the past six years. Last year alone, 67 infants were treated for NAS.
When a pregnant woman takes prescribed or illegal drugs such as amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, heroin, marijuana or opiates/narcotics, those drugs pass through the placenta to the unborn child. This can cause the baby to become addicted, just like the mother. For many mothers, multiple drugs are involved and often include nicotine, alcohol and antidepressants.
“We were so moved when we were educated on the plight of these infants that we decided to commit funds raised from the 2012 annual gala to help spread the word on drug-addicted babies.” said Jim LaJoie, Executive Director of the Superior Health Foundation Executive Director. “Using a variety of media outlets, the goal of our U.P.- wide campaign is to raise awareness through education, offer support and resources to those affected, and ultimately reduce the number of addicted infants.”
When birth occurs, the infant is no longer getting the drug, thus symptoms of withdrawal may occur. These symptoms include a shrill, high-pitched cry, tight muscles, poor feeding, loose stools and in some cases, even seizures. While the long-term effects on these infants are uncertain, studies have shown some developmental delays including difficulty concentrating in school, as well as a variety of behavioral issues.
“It is heart-wrenching to see these tiny infants suffering through withdrawal,” said Dr. Julia Frei, neonatologist and head of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Marquette General. “These high-needs newborns need be constantly swaddled, held and rocked and their crying is almost constant. Many of these infants have prolonged NICU stays and require treatment for withdrawal. But with proper prenatal care and close monitoring of the mother, the effects of drugs on the infant can be greatly reduced and in some cases, eliminated.”
The campaign will stress the importance of those who are pregnant and addicted to maintain their prenatal appointments with their physician. Through their physician, they will able to learn about treatment options that will give their baby the best chance of avoiding or decreasing withdrawal after birth. A physician’s office should be a nonjudgmental place where the mother-to-be can feel comfortable to speak openly about addiction, pregnancy and the challenges of managing them both simultaneously.
“As our campaign matures, our messaging will expand to encompass everything from treatment to prevention of drug use,” said LaJoie. “But the immediate need is to decrease the number of babies born addicted.”
The Superior Health Foundation has posted educational information about NAS, including links to support resources on its website, www.superiorhealthfoundation.org, as well as Marquette General Hospital’s Women’s and Children’s website.