Fighting the Heroin Epidemic: Born Addicted

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Every 19 minutes a child in the United States is born with an opioid addiction that they inherited from their mother. Then comes the difficult task of detoxing.

"It's a very rough start for these babies," says SwedishAmerican hospital Registered Nurse Amy Mayberry.

Mayberry and Salena Kinser dedicate their lives to taking care of newborns. They understand some, need a little extra attention.

"Most of the babies we take care of will be very jittery,sneezing, frequent yawning, vomiting and diarrhea, very fussy and irritable," says Mayberry.

The two nurses at SwedishAmerican hospital work in the Special Care Nursery where babies who need just that, special care, spend their days until they're ready to go home, including babies born addicted to heroin.

"They're not getting the heroin they were getting in utero so their body just goes through all the normal withdraws that an adult would go through," says Mayberry.

SwedishAmerican keeps stats on the number of babies born addicted to drugs, although they don't specify which drug, the numbers are alarming.

Thirteen were born addicted to drugs in 2013, that number jumped to 21 in 2014, rising to 23 in 2015.

"I definitely feel bad for these babies, nobody wants to start life out that way," says Mayberry.

"I think the whole epidemic as a whole is cause for concern, just for the safety of the babies, the safety of the mothers," says Operational Supervisor for Special Care Nursery Salena Kinser.

While the tiny patients remain in the hospital, nurses do what they can to make both mom and baby comfortable and healthy.

"Babies we treat them with neonatal morphine and it just depends on again how much the mom was using, the doses of morphine that we'll use. we try and encourage our moms to get into treatment programs."

The hospital also uses special swings to soothe the baby and combat their irritability. It's often times a side effect of being born addicted to heroin.

"These babies like to be stimulated, like vibration, like noise. They like to be rocked, like to be patted on the back."

Each child is kept at the hospital for at least five days for observation. But what happens after that? And what are some of the long lasting effects for babies?

"There's an increased likelihood for learning disabilities, cognitive delays, and also behavioral problems," says KP Counseling Licensed Clinical Social Worker Kevin Polky.

He says babies born addicted will need special attention in the classroom to combat those symptoms. If the parents continue using drugs, Polky says they're not only affecting the child's physical health, they're also affecting their overall well-being, impacting the way they learn and build relationships with others.

"The impact of heroin during the pregnancy doesn't just impact the father and the mom, it definitely impacts the children," says Polky. "That's one of the biggest reasons we encourage them to be clean and sober."

Polky says these symptoms won't last forever if children born addicted get help early, making Mayberry's work that much more important.