Covering Kentucky

Sep 2, 2012 4:45 PM

Alarming Growth Of Ky. Drug-Addicted Newborns

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The number of newborns hospitalized for drug addiction passed on from their mothers has soared in Kentucky over the last decade.

Many of the tiny babies are victims of the prescription pill epidemic in Kentucky, where hospitalizations for addicted newborns climbed from 29 in 2000 to 730 last year.

The rate has increased to the point that on one day in August at the University of Louisville's neonatal intensive care unit, more than half the babies were suffering from drug withdrawal, The Courier-Journal reported (

"It's a silent epidemic that's going on out there," said Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "You need to say: 'Stop the madness. This is too much.'"

State officials and doctors say the hospitalization statistics include newborn withdrawals from all types of drugs, but they blame prescription pills for the dramatic increase.

Melissa Lueloff, 28, of Louisville, who gave birth to an addicted girl two years ago, said her cravings while pregnant for OxyContin, Opana and cocaine ruled her life.

"I just couldn't stop," she said.

Her daughter Neveah was born a month premature and spent five days in a neonatal intensive care unit struggling with withdrawal, constantly clenching her tiny fists and whining in pain.

Nurse Tonya Anderson, an infant development/touch therapist for neonatal nurseries at Kosair Children's Hospital, said there are times when there are more than a dozen babies suffering from withdrawal in the special-care nursery where she works.

"They are just agitated. They are screaming. They have tremors. Their faces - you have the grimace. They're in pain. . Sometimes, the babies have seizures," she said. "We hate it. . It breaks my heart to see these babies go through withdrawal."

According to a May study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the rate of newborns suffering withdrawal in the United States rose from 1.2 hospitalizations per 1,000 hospital births in 2000 to 3.4 per 1,000 in 2009.

"We knew that it was common, but we would not expect this problem would have tripled in the last decade," said Dr. Matthew Davis, an associate professor at the University of Michigan and one of the study's authors. "There are not many medical problems that have tripled in a decade - not obesity, not heart disease, not diabetes."

Dr. Lori Ann Devlin-Phinney, a neonatologist who sees patients at University Hospital, Kosair Children's and Baptist Hospital East, said she's counted 132 newborns treated for addiction to opiates or narcotics at University's NICU in the past seven years.

She's seen similar numbers at Kosair Children's Hospital - including 65 in 2011 - and about 50 during the seven-year period at Baptist East.

Devlin-Phinney also tracked a steep recent rise at University of Louisville Hospital, from nine in 2006 to 44 in 2011. The hospital had particularly high numbers of addicted babies in its NICU earlier this month - with eight of its 15 babies suffering withdrawal in the 24-bed unit.

Neonatologists at UK Medical Center in Lexington, where many patients come from eastern Kentucky, report seeing 90 to 100 addicted babies a year.

One eastern Kentucky mother, Valerie Hall of Pikeville, was five months pregnant with her youngest child when she came to Cumberland River Comprehensive Care Center's Independence House in Corbin after serving jail time for drug trafficking. The facility helps pregnant and post-partum addicts. With counseling and support, Hall gave birth to a healthy, drug-free son, Easton, more than four months ago.

"I know he would've been born addicted if I had not come here," she said, cradling Easton as he sucked on a bottle. "I love him so much, and I'm grateful nothing happened to him."

Rickitta Smith, a recovering pain pill addict, said a program at Volunteers of America's Freedom House in Louisville helped her give birth to a healthy baby as well.

"I was just tired of living that life," said Smith, who stopped taking the drugs when she was five months pregnant with her son. "I could feel my baby being hurt. It scared me."


Information from: The Courier-Journal,

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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