Jul 11, 2013 2:24 AM by Kristi Tedesco
TUCSON - For years newborns suffering from the effects of street drugs such as meth or heroine has been a serious problem. .
There is a new disturbing problem with an increase of infants born dependent on prescription pain killers.
Kristi's Kids investigated the problem here in Tucson.
At Diamond Children's we found an increase in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome cases.
In the past, doctors used to see one or two cases a year. Now, every month at least one baby is born dependent on prescription drugs.
The symptoms are heartbreaking.
"They scream and they cry and they pull their legs up and they're visibly in discomfort," says Dr. Alan Bedrick, Chief of Neonatology.
They also suffer from severe diarrhea and vomiting, rapid breathing, and trouble feeding.
There's also a high risk of seizure for babies born dependent.
"And we are seeing more moms who have been taking prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Percocet, and among all those moms we are seeing babies born addicted to narcotics," Dr. Bedrick explains.
Oxycontin is common too. Symptoms kick-in after the baby is born when the flow of the drug is cut off.
The treatment? Use another narcotic.
"And we typically use morphine. And we'll give it to the babies every three hours with their feeds."
For some little ones weaning can take a few weeks. Others will stay in the hospital for up to two months.
Treatment is expensive costing thousands of dollars per day in the Natal Intensive Care Unit.
Sandra Buntin is a Transport Nurse at Diamond Children's.
She's treated many of these babies.
"It can be really frustrating for us and for the doctors and of course for the families too because sometimes it can't be avoided for some of those moms."
So why are so many more babies being born dependent?
Doctors will tell you sometimes a mom is unaware of the impact of her medications on the unborn child.
In many cases, there's good reason for mom's medication such as severe back pain or a previous injury.
"It's a difficult circumstance and during pregnancy," says Dr. Bedrick. "We certainly don't want the moms to withdraw themselves. And they need to continue to take their medication."
In other cases, the mother develops an addiction and keeps taking the drug long after it's needed.
Across the country abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise.
Knowledge is key.
"The better we can educate patients and families to know what to expect during pregnancy and after words, the better off we all are."
Dr. Bedrick says with proper treatment most babies born drug dependent will make a full recovery.
Still it's too early to know if they'll be at a higher risk for addictions later in life.
Moms should just be aware and have this conversation with their doctors.