The baby lay screaming in the hospital crib, its tiny frame racked with pain. Powerless to help, the nurse tried to comfort the baby as best she could. Two more babies in the hospital were suffering with the same condition, yet there was little she could do.
The newborn baby was going through withdrawal from drugs ― drugs transmitted by her mother during pregnancy. Known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, these withdrawal symptoms can take the form of seizures, elevated heart and respiratory rate, difficulty in sleeping and eating, and extreme bouts of irritability, and even problems in growth development.
As America is in the grips of an opioid epidemic, the number of babies born dependent on heroin and other opiates continues to climb, as well.
Indeed, over the course of the past decade, the number of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has quadrupled over the course of 15 years in the United States. Shockingly, up to 94 percent of babies born to mothers who used opioids while pregnant will suffer symptoms of drug withdrawal. Maine, Vermont and West Virginia lead the nation. Out of every 1,000 babies born in these states, at least 30 are born with NAS. Another study found that babies born the past decade suffering from NAS increased five-fold across the nation. Furthermore, yet another study found that a baby is born suffering from opiate withdrawals every 25 minutes.
I have seen it first hand. I have held many a baby in my own arms as they suffered with withdrawal, as they screamed in pain. Some have become permanent family members.
“While there are indications that a recent surge in opioid use and other substance abuse has led to an increase in the overall number of children entering foster care, it is far from clear that this is the clear driving factor,” said Daniel Heimpel, executive director of Fostering Media Connections. “When it comes to babies, it is important that there are treatment facilities that help mothers recover from addiction, which are also equipped to provide medical services to substance exposed newborns.”
With the number of babies born to opium-addicted parents continues to skyrocket, there is also an increase in finding homes for these children. Many of them are placed into foster care ― a foster care system that struggles to keep up with this increasing number. With roughly 450,000 children in foster care across the nation, there are not enough foster homes, as foster care agencies face the challenge of recruitment and retention of foster parents. This larger number of children being placed into foster care, nationwide, is due much in part of an increase in parental drug usage and substance abuse.
Chris Carmichael, President of Royal Family Kids, has seen the opioid crisis affect the children from foster care who participate with Royal Family Kids camps across the nation, “In the past year, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of children entering foster care, largely because of the current opioid crisis. The foster care system is already strained, and this surge of children entering the system is very alarming. Many of these children are addicted to opiates and suffer from a variety of trauma-based disorders. We have incorporated new training for our volunteers to be able to work with children suffering from this crisis, but we need more volunteers than ever.”
As the opioid crisis in America continues to climb, continues to claim more victims, it is the babies in our nation that fall victim. It is the babies in the nation that are unable to protect themselves from this drug use.
How many more babies will suffer before America faces this crisis? How many more innocent lives will be destroyed?
Dr. John DeGarmo has adopted three children from foster care; three children whose parents had drug related challenges. He has been a foster parent for 14 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 50 children come through their home. He is the director of The Foster Care Institute, is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system Dr. DeGarmo and his wife were recently named a Good Morning America Ultimate Hero. He is the author of several foster care books, including the The Foster Parenting Manual, and writes for several publications, including Fostering Families Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.