The city of Baltimore has been ravaged by opiate addiction for quite some time. There are many tragedies created from the opiate epidemic and the largest one is deadly overdoses. A tragedy that does not get as much attention and is also extremely heartbreaking is the children born addicted to these drugs. When a woman is addicted to opiates and becomes pregnant, it is an extra reason to get clean. In an ideal situation, all mothers-to-be would get clean immediately but that is not reality. As the pregnancy progresses and the mother continues to feed her addiction, the baby is also taking in the drugs. When the baby is born it will start the withdrawal process as the drugs leave the babies system. It is a horrible situation for the child and the baby suffers for the first weeks of its life.
The Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore handles many cases a year in its neonatal intensive care unit. It is one of the places where babies are brought to for the withdrawal process. Unfortunately in order to get off the drugs, more drugs are usually given before that can happen.
"It is a tough way to come into the world," said Kay Mathias, a nurse practitioner. Mathias spends much of her time caring for the babies that are addicted to opiates that the mothers took during their pregnancy. When speaking about a baby boy in her care she said, "He has had a very difficult course at the beginning. He was on a very high dose of the morphine. He was also on an additional two drugs to help with withdrawal early on, but now, he's doing really well."
Every day these babies are weaned off the drugs a little bit more. These babies who are addicted to opiates go through neonatal abstinence syndrome and the symptoms they endure are harsh. The babies are very uncomfortable and extremely irritable. They have a high-pitched cry which seems to be non-stop along with muscle spasms, tremors and in some cases they may actually have seizures. It is very difficult for the babies to gain weight and they have a hard time sleeping. They lay with their bodies clenched and squirming. To try and keep them as comfortable as possible, the babies are massaged and are placed in soothing environments with quiet music and low light.
The babies are coming into this world fighting and it will have lasting effects on their life. "Studies have shown they're at risk for learning disabilities in the future for having developmental delays," says Dr. Monique Satpute, a neonatologist at the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. We also have to think about the environment these children will be raised in. If the mother does not get the help that she needs, the child will have many disadvantages when having a parent addicted to opiates. Growing up in an unstable home will have lasting effects on the child’s development, much more than the neonatal abstinence syndrome they had to go through at birth.