Half again as many Kentucky newborns were hospitalized for drug dependency last year as the year before

Mother Samantha Adams and her newborn Leopoldo Bautista,
10 days old, spend quality time inside the Louisville Norton
Healthcare
child care center for children experiencing drug
withdrawal. (Photo by Alton Strupp, The Courier-Journal)

Increasing drug abuse drove up hospitalizations of drug-dependent newborns in Kentucky by 48
percent last year, to 1,409 from 955 in 2013. “The latest
numbers represent a 50-fold increase from only 28 hospitalizations in
2000,” reports Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal.

“The seemingly never-ending increase every year is so
frustrating to see,” Van Ingram, executive director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, told Ungar. “It’s a horrible thing to spend the first days of your life in agony.”

“These infants are born into suffering,” Ungar writes. “They cry piercingly and often. They suffer vomiting, diarrhea, feeding difficulties, low-grade fevers, seizures — and even respiratory distress if they’re born prematurely.”

Drug-dependent newborns are becoming more common nationwide, Ungar notes, but “Vanderbilt University researchers publishing in the Journal of Perinatology [a subspecialty of obstetrics concerned with the care of the fetus and complicated, high-risk pregnancies] say rates are highest in a region encompassing Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky.”

While the increase is blamed mostly on illegal drug use, the Vanderbilt study found that 28 percent of pregnant Medicaid recipients in Tennessee filled at least one painkiller prescription, Ungar writes: “Legitimate use not only raises the risk of having a drug-dependent baby, it can sometimes lead to abuse and addiction.”

While Medicaid now pays for behavioral-health and substance-abuse treatment, “Drug treatment for pregnant women is sorely lacking,” Ungar reports. In Kentucky, only 71 of the 286 treatment facilities listed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration treat pregnant women. 

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