Addicted at Birth: Kids born with thirst for narcotics - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Addicted at Birth: Kids born with thirst for narcotics

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Every eight seconds, a child is born in the United States. But what's disturbing is that every hour, one of those newborns already has a drug addiction.

According to the American Medical Association, pregnant mothers using opiate pain relievers like Oxycontin have nearly quintupled in the last decade.

The effect is called Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome, and it can be immediate.

"They are often very irritable, they cry a lot, they have trouble feeding," said Palmetto Health Richland's neonatologist Dr. Victor Iskersky.

The addiction is the result of their mother's taking methadone for a drug addiction, or have been abusing opioid prescription drugs during their pregnancy.

"These babies, first off, are often born small for their gestational age, so they don't grow as well as non-addicted babies inside the mother," said Iskersky.

Sixty to 80 percent of babies exposed to chronic opioid use while in utero can suffer withdrawal once they're born. Doctor's say the first treatment is a quiet, dark environment.

"Swaddle them, give them a lot of TLC, and if that doesn't work, we have to actually treat them with medication," said Iskerksy.

That means giving them the very drug they're addicted to.

"It is using Methadone, which is used to treat addiction or dependency, in much smaller doses than what we see in an adult or teen," said Addison Livingston, pharmacist at Hawthorne Pharmacy in Columbia.

The treatment lengthens most hospital stays.

"These babies typically require anywhere from a week to several weeks of hospitalization," said Iskersky.

The scenario becomes dangerous when the baby is released with a prescription for Methadone.

"Often times we are sending these babies home on a taper of the drug that we're using to treat them with, usually towards the end," said Iskersky.

Many times, doctors are releasing the children into a home where drug abuse can be an issue.

"It can be difficult treating those because there are some legal requirements and the fact that you're dealing with an infant," said Livingston.

That's not all. Federal regulations prohibit prescribing Methadone for purposes of detoxifying or maintaining a narcotic addict. Prescriptions issued for this purpose are illegal and pharmacists are not authorized to fill them. Physicians weigh the risks and benefits, as pregnant women quitting opioids cold turkey could harm the baby.

"Quite frequently in these situations the risks or the benefits actually outweigh the risks from the standpoint of the mother's health knowing that the baby may have some problems, but we can help the baby get over those problems," said Iskersky.

Doctors say many of these children go on to live healthy lives.

"Most of these children actually do well down the road, and of course, the most important thing is to provide them with a nurturing, loving, and stimulating home environment," said Iskersky.

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