Addicted at Birth

Week old infant weighing 430 grams,
Authors Aneta Meszko and Marcin Meszko (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

WARNING: Graphic Images

“In America, a baby is born dependent on opioids every 19 minutes [1A]”.

In the past ten years, over 130,000 children in the United States have been born with drug dependency inherited from a mother on heroin, methamphetamine, or opioids [1B].

Infant Detox

Called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, this dependency causes poor feeding and suck reflex, with slow weight gain; vomiting; diarrhea; sweating; muscle cramps, seizures, and twitching; irritability; sleep problems; yawning, stuffy nose, and sneezing; along with shortness of breath [2][3].

Infants, in other words, experience many of the same withdrawal symptoms their mothers do [4]. They cry inconsolably from the pain.

While one study found that pre-natal drug exposure was not associated with increased mortality, it did find significantly higher mortality rates among low birth weight infants positive for cocaine and opiates [5].

Lack of Care

In one case, a baby in Oklahoma died after her mother, high on methamphetamine and opioids, put the 10-day-old girl in a washing machine with a load of dirty laundry [1C].”

The risk to addicted newborns does not stop there. Infants all too often die after being released home to mothers struggling with drug addiction.

Reuters has identified at least 110 such cases [1D]. More than 40 infants suffocated. Another 13 died after swallowing fatal doses of heroin, methadone, oxycodone, and other opioids.

In three-quarters of these cases, the mother was implicated in her child’s death; in other instances, a boyfriend, husband, or other relative was responsible [1E].

Long-Term Consequences

For those addicted infants who do survive, health and developmental problems are in store. The long-term effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome can include hearing and vision difficulties, as well as learning and behavioral issues.

Keeping Children Safe

“A mother who abuses methadone or other legal opioids can be just as dangerous to her newborn as a parent high on heroin [1F].”

The federal Keeping Children and Families Safe Act (2003) urges states to protect drug addicted infants. In theory, health care providers alert child protective services. Social workers then take measures to keep newborns safe after their discharge from hospital.

Unfortunately, most states are not in compliance.

In an effort to relieve health care providers from liability, at least 36 states have policies which do not require physicians to report each case.  Many states do not require reporting if the mother is taking methadone, pain medication, or other narcotics prescribed by her physician.

Because so many drug addicted infants go unreported, no one knows precisely how many children are killed or injured by addicted parents [1G].


[1A – 1G]  Reuters, “Helpless and Hooked” by Duff Wilson and John Shiffman, 12/7/15, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/baby-opioids/.

[2]  March of Dimes, “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)”, https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/neonatal-abstinence-syndrome-(nas).aspx.

[3]  Wikipedia, “Neonatal withdrawal”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neonatal_withdrawal.

[4]  American Addiction Centers, “Drug Withdrawals Symptoms, Timelines, and Treatment” by Amelia Sharp, 9/3/20, https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments.

[5]  Pediatrics, “Mortality Within the First 2 Years in Infants Exposed to Cocaine, Opiate, or Cannabinoid During Gestation” by Enrique Ostrea et al, July 1997, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/100/1/79.

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16 Comments

Filed under Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse

16 responses to “Addicted at Birth

  1. I think that the way this very serious health as well as societal problem is being handled is badly, deficient and ineffective. The laws should be federal affecting all states and putting all US citizens under its jurisdiction. The amount of babies suffering from this syndrome is alarming and should cause a stronger reaction in the population which should not accept this so passively. If would be mothers do not have the discipline, the seriousness and the mental and physical conditions, they should avoid pregnancies and if they are incapable of self control there should be government intervention to prevent addicts from becoming mothers that night later go on to murder their babies or having babies addicted to opiates. I remember many pain management doctors in Miami dispensing opiates like candy every time a patient goes to them after an injury. It’s a crime that should be investigated. Thank you Anna. You always bring us very important and informative posts. All the best,
    F

  2. “A stitch in time” was already not made before birth. It is hard to understand how decisions to slow walk help is made, for if its cost, well, those stiches become more dear, by the day. Healing the child becomes less effective by each more expensive day.

  3. These statistics are so heartbreaking. We should be starting life healthy, full of unspoiled potential. How sad that so many children are born addicted.

  4. Sigh…..yet another heartbreaking example of how families are being destroyed by the influences of evil that are so prevalent in our society. My heart aches for these innocent children condemned to suffer such needless pain and misery.

  5. This is heartbreaking Anna,
    This is a issue that would be time and effort well spent in congress to change. In some states a woman would be charged, and lose custody for a time, but these laws may have been changed through arguments of woman’s rights. Children are a gift from God, sadly not all feel that way.

  6. Anna, the subject you are discussing is regrettable and heartbreaking. How sad that newborns have to pay the consequences of irresponsible adults. I greet you with the friendship of always.

  7. This is a very real problem all of us should be aware of. Thanks for sharing.

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