Tiniest patients face huge battle: drug addiction

By: Allison Kropff Email
By: Allison Kropff Email

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - It's the other face of drug addiction: Newborns. They come into the world fighting for their lives.
It's a problem that reaches far beyond hospital doors.

Of the 60 babies in NICU care here at Children's Hospital, 21 were born, addicted to drugs. Now, they're suffering from withdrawals. They're the silent victims in the growing drug problem, here in East Tennessee.

19:49 (Carla) "They claw at their faces, they're frantic, they have a very fearful is the best way we can describe it, look in their eyes, just a fearful look in their eyes," says Carla Saunders, a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner at Children's Hospital.

Within hours, newborns deal with the painful side effects of drug addiction.

"Hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, cocaine, crack roxy, you name it, we've seen it," says Saunders.

A year ago, doctors would have given these babies methadone until they were stable, then sent them home with the drug to continue treatment.

"Having the parents or caregivers take to use themselves or sell to buy other drugs," says Terry King, a pharmacist at Children's Hospital.

Now, under the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Project, doctors wean with morphine.

"We believe that we might be able to achieve a quicker wean off, it would take a shorter time to get the results," says King.

Fewer days in the hospital. The average stay, a month. But some babies have been here for three months.

"It's not right to spend that much of your life in a newborn nursery needlessly," says Saunders.

This isn't just a newborn problem, Saunders says these babies face challenges in the future.

"Children have impulse control issues. They have behavioral issues. They have ADD type issues in Kindergarten and elementary school."

The Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Project created here at Children's Hospital is not just getting statewide attention, hospitals across the country are interested. The hope is better outcomes and less suffering for these innocent newborns.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by ANTI-DRUG Location: OHIO on Aug 26, 2011 at 08:12 AM
    I think that Lindsey's comment has to be the biggest joke I have ever heard of in my life. Are you serious? Congrats on being clean now but its a baby, you had to take big amounts to get you high and for a baby it would only take little amounts, there for your baby was probably high way after you got clean. I think doctors can tell if a baby is drug addicted. Their not just going to give them drugs to wean them off. All I can say is selfish! Oh and Carol, wow! thats all I can say!
  • by Seriously Concerned Location: Knoxville on Aug 17, 2011 at 01:25 AM
    I agree with Meli...as far as the other comments, these woman are both in denial. The main trait of a drug addict is they are perpetual liars...The issues are the innocent babies who are brought into this world to suffer all through their lives, not just while they are withdrawing because their mothers are VERY selfish DRUG ADDICTS and know how to lie to work the system. We have a growing problem here in Knoxville and these woman have NO consiquences for their actions. They should lose all rights if their babies show any trace of illegal street drugs or drugs not prescribed for a purpose other than their own selfish pleasure. Maybe then they would think before they conitinue bringing these poor innocent souls into the world!
  • by Carol Location: Knoxville on Aug 15, 2011 at 02:35 PM
    I would like to say a big THANK YOU to Lindsey, posted august 13. You are a brave and precious mother. A lot of babies seen at Childrens do not have a chance like your baby does. Many blessings in the future. Keep up your stance on drugs.I am proud of you and don't even know you, but God does.
  • by Lindsey Location: Knoxville on Aug 13, 2011 at 08:42 PM
    i'd like to make the comment that not ALL of the mothers with babies in there who are receiving drug treatment are "druggies". my son is in the nicu receiving medication for drug withdrawal but i got clean during my pregnancy. i went to a halfway house and am proud to say that i am almost 7 months clean. my son saved my life. i dont think he needed to be put on morphine considering i hadnt used in 7 months before he was born and both him and i had negative drug screens at birth.
  • by Meli Location: Knoxville on Aug 12, 2011 at 08:38 AM
    I think it would be wise to go ahead and tie the tubes of these female druggies right after they give birth to these hapless babies.

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