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Innocent Addicts: How the opioid crisis is affecting babies

Innocent Addicts: How the opioid crisis is affecting babies.

As the opioid crisis continues to ravage the nation, more and more babies are being born addicted to drugs.

It's called Neo-natal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). It’s costly, harmful and very difficult to watch as innocent babies react to opioid withdrawal. In West Michigan, there’s help for those affected by the growing syndrome.

Heather, whose last name Newschannel 3 is withholding for privacy concerns, is glad she sought help.

"It feels wonderful. She's been here since she's been born. She was five weeks early,” Heather said when the I-Team visited her and her newborn Aria at Bronson Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Aria is Heather's second child born with NAS. While Heather kicked her pain pill habit three years ago, she's still being treated with methadone to ensure she doesn't relapse.

“As soon as I found out I was pregnant with her, I knew I had to go get help because if I didn't I knew I would probably end up killing her if I didn't go get help,” Heather said.

Children born with NAS can have low birth weights, tremors and convulsions.

“NAS babies, they happen to need more love and attention because when they're going through their withdrawals and stuff, it's just hard for them to deal with it because they can't talk, they can't tell us that they're withdrawing and how they feel,” Heather said.

The number of babies born with NAS across the nation has grown five fold since 2000, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Dr. Robin Pierruci says the spike was jarring.

“All of a sudden, we were seeing a huge spike in these kids and it was actually reassuring to know it was going on across the country and not just here in Kalamazoo,” Pierruci said.

Nationally, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 25 minutes.

“They can be very rigid and stiff which is very hard on the moms who are trying to console them when their baby stays so firm and is pushing them away,” Pierucci said. “That's hard. One of the reasons we treat them with meds is to help them be able to relax."

Relaxation for NAS babies also comes in the form of cuddling and volunteer cuddlers at Bronson Hospital, like Les Tung, give the babies extra attention.

“When a child appears to be very upset and won't settle down, I know that they're going through a lot and I just tell myself, hang in there and we'll get through this episode together,” Tung said.

That's the mission with NAS; changing what could be disastrous into the short-term.

Dr. Pierucci says the first step is helping mothers get help.

“We can't just put our head in the sand and say, 'Shame on you,'” Pierucci said. “That's ridiculous. You wouldn't do that with any other pathological process. How do we help?"

In West Michigan, the help is there. It's help Heather is glad she found.

“Get the help that's out there because it's so much better,” Heather said.


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