Opiate Addicted Newborns in Southern Missouri

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Substance abuse during pregnancy is a growing health concern, not only nationwide, but specifically here in the Ozarks.

More babies are beginning their lives with painful and powerful addictions, and we’re grateful most won’t remember those pains.

But the hurt from withdrawing isn’t just being felt by infants.  It’s taking its toll on doctors, nurses, caseworkers, and even addicted mothers who are actively fighting for change.  

An empty bed where tiny hands and tiny toes will soon be treated.  Of the 28 rooms in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cox Hospital in Springfield, on average, at least one every day is occupied by a baby withdrawing from drugs.

Robin Stoneman, a registered nurse at CoxHealth, works with these tiny patients.  “They cry. They have explosive stools, so they have terrible diaper rash. They breathe fast. They don’t eat well. They have lots and lots of symptoms, and it’s really sad to watch,” she says.

Research shows hospital treatment for overusing opioid painkillers increased 137 percent in Missouri between 2005 and 2015.  That’s a statistic that reflects a national trend.  Babies – the tiniest victims of addiction.

“As soon as the umbilical cord is cut, they have lost their source of medication they were being exposed to,” says Stoneman.  “Some withdrawal within hours. Some it takes days.

Stoneman has been a registered nurse in the NICU for 17 years. 
The screeching sound of pain from sensitive babies withdrawing, she hopes, will echo a cry for help to mothers.

“It’s emotional, and it’s really challenging sometimes, you know, it’s very difficult not to be judgmental towards these moms, and so you really have to take a step back and you know think about the care that you’re providing and the kind of things-the stress that they’re under, as a mom.”

Most recent data shows nationwide, 22,000 babies were born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in 2012- five times more than in 2002.  That means a baby was born addicted to drugs every 25 minutes.

The average stay in the NICU for babies withdrawing is 17 days…with a cost averaging $66,000. A majority of the bill being paid through state Medicaid programs.

Researchers believe that shows a greater tendency for opiate-abusing mothers to come from lower-income communities.

The alarming trend is what local health care workers are calling an epidemic. And they’re collaborating together, to try and make a difference.

“As we see a cluster, an increase in opiate use in patients, ok, we’ve got to redefine how we do this care. What’s the best way to do that?” asks Dr. Matthew Stinson, vice president of medical and behavioral health services at Jordan Valley Behavior Health.

Jordan Valley Community Health Center sees a number of families using Medicaid for care.

Dr. Stinson estimates 36 percent of prenatal patients at the center test positive for drugs. He recently submitted a grant for federal funding to start a new treatment program for the center’s patients aimed at stopping that statistic from rising. 

“I think that, especially those who are in poverty, they’ve seen the effects of it, but there aren’t pathways out of that for some people. And so we can educate them – really what people need is people to get alongside them and help them through that, and mentor them out of it.”

Right now, Missouri and federal legislators are reviewing bills and making decisions on funding for greater access to substance abuse treatment and mental healthcare, so this is how you can get involved.

Let them know you care about this issue and ask for their support in helping mentor people here in the Ozarks out of addiction.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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