Staggering number of babies born addicted to painkillers - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Staggering number of babies born addicted to painkillers

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PHOENIX -

In the 80's and 90's, hospitals saw a surge in babies born addicted to crack cocaine. Today it's a different substance -- prescription pain killers.

It's an alarming trend sweeping the nation and the valley.

More babies are being born addicted to prescription painkillers than ever before because an unprecedented number of pregnant women are abusing them instead of street drugs.

The latest studies indicate the number has nearly tripled in the last ten years. Some call it an epidemic.

We have one valley mom's struggle to get and stay clean while pregnant.

2-year-old Eden is the apple of her mommy's eye. Her coy smile and playfulness would never lead anyone to think she was born addicted.

"I did them when I needed them, you know like Oxy's or Vicodin, mostly Percocet, if that's all I could get," says Jessica Austin.

Jessica Austin was 19 when she started using heroine. Soon after she turned to prescription pain killers as a way to ease herself off the lethal street drug.

"It was very easy to go into the ER and say I have this kind of pain or I have really bad pain right here."

At 23, after one relapse, Austin learned she was pregnant but even an unborn child didn't stop her drug abuse.

On October 30th, weighing six pounds, Eden was born with the same dependency as her mother.

"She was fussy, very fussy."

The latest statistics published by the Journal of the American Medical Association show that about 3.4 of every 1,000 infants born in hospitals nationwide suffered from some type of withdrawal. That's about 13,539 infants a year, or one prescription pain killer-addicted baby born every hour.

The study also found that 5.6 out of 1,000 pregnant women abuse opiates, prescription painkillers, such as vicodin and oxycontin.

"They are so widely available we're essentially a society of prescription drugs on demand," says Dr. Michael Sucher, a pain addiction expert.

Dr. Sucher says the trend has shifted from street drugs to prescription drugs, partly because they are more easily available and because far too many people think they are safer. But that's not the case for pregnant women who, Dr. Sucher, says will almost certainly suffer a miscarriage if they stop using prescription painkillers without medical help.

"You cannot safely detoxify a pregnant woman off of opiates they have to be maintained on either methadone or suboxone during the course of the pregnancy," he says.

Withdrawal from painkillers, opiates according to the experts we spoke to, is just as if not more difficult and painful than withdrawal from street drugs like crack cocaine or meth for both mom and baby.

"The babies will go into withdrawal just as the mother would if they just stopped taking pain medication. But the babies are much more vulnerable they don't have the same type of resistance that the mother has," says Dr. Frank Scarpati.

Seven years ago Dr. Frank Scarpati founded the Center for Hope.

It's a facility for pregnant women fighting addiction. In the past year the center has seen a 7% increase in clients whose substance of choice is a prescription pain killer.

"It evolved over the last seven years. You can almost follow the trend for the increases in prescription drug, pain killer prescriptions and then see the correlating increase in other street drugs."

"AHCCCS will not pay for it."

The facility offers comprehensive treatment, education, and help with the withdrawal process.

So when their baby is born there is less of a chance he or she will suffer serious or long-term medical affects from the opiates.

Austin recently graduated from the Center of Hope.

"I think that the coping skills and the things that I learned for the first five months that I was at the center really helped me," says Austin.

After her daughter was born, Austin's biggest challenge was dealing with her c-section without pain killers and exploring why she couldn't take them to the hospital staff.

"They finally stopped asking after I said I need you to stop and I didn't go home with a prescription for it and I was proud at that point that is something I knew in my heart I didn't need I stuck with ibuprofen and I was fine."

In May, Jessica Austin celebrated two years of being drug free. She's going to school to be a social worker and wants to help other women who fell onto to same path she did, and show them dependency on any drug, especially those they think are harmless, isn't the way to live.

If pregnant women aren't put on methadone, experts say the detox process for a newborn can last several months and include low birth weights, seizures, irritability and difficulty breathing.

Studies show treating drug-addicted newborns, most of whom are covered by public health programs, cost $720 million in one year.

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