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,

[2]  March of Dimes, “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)”,

[3]  Wikipedia, “Neonatal withdrawal”,

[4]  American Addiction Centers, “Drug Withdrawals Symptoms, Timelines, and Treatment” by Amelia Sharp, 9/3/20,

[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,



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

31 responses to “Addicted at Birth

  1. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    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,

  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.

  8. This is so sad(´;︵;`)
    Thanks for acknowledging this!

  9. Babies with NAS can be given medication to relieve their discomfort. It’s important to remember that babies are not addicted. Part of the definition of being addicted means that a person seeks out drugs and continues to use them despite negative consequences. Babies, however, rely completely on caring hospital staff for relief. they get pregnant. Doctors can help guide women to treatment, which can also protect their babies. If a pregnant woman needs treatment for pain, her doctor can advise her on how to safely take medicines.

  10. So little understanding and compassion towards women who are addicted. If the mother stops using opiates during pregnancy, she WILL miscarry. She HAS to carry on in order to carry on the pregnancy. No junkie wants to get knocked up while deep in addiction. Women get pregnant, it happens. But carry on judging and failing to understand….

    • I have never heard this before. I cannot say how valid it is. But women don’t get pregnant by breathing. It doesn’t just “happen”. And compassion for an addicted mother (warranted or not) does nothing to alleviate the suffering of her addicted child. The child has no choice in the matter of addiction. The mother does.

      • Do you research, Anna. Shame on you. Just more judgemental lack of comprehension and scattering your phoney lack of understanding around a subject you know nothing about. Addicted women are forced into prostitution and your moral pearl clutching does nothing except make you feel superior

      • And your point about children is what? How exactly does that help them? I have written elsewhere about the tragedies of prostitution and human trafficking. In this situation, my sympathies lie w/ the child.

      • Dear Anna, I decided I will write a piece about my experiences as a young woman, addicted to heroin, with no option but to abort. I am afraid you are talking from a point of total lack of understanding and compassion. That is ok, your ignorance is not your fault. If you are interested in positive discussion, instead of judgmental superiority kicking I will send you a link when I have finished writing it.

      • I look forward with interest to reading your article. There are countless broken lives in the chain leading to these addicted children. All deserve to be repaired.

      • Those broken addicted women are overwhelmingly the adult result of childhood abuse themselves. People have different ways of coping, and varying amounts of support. I got none. Heroin was my support.

      • I am glad you have raised this issue. I urge others to read your story. My focus here has been on child welfare. But you are right that the lives of mothers and children are inextricably entwined.

        You are mistaken in believing that I see myself as morally superior to anyone. I am far too familiar w/ my own faults and failures for that. When compared w/ God’s, our righteousness is like filthy rags, in any case (Isa. 64: 6).

        My advocacy on behalf of children stems from my own abuse. In my view, the welfare of children takes precedence even over the wounds of their parents. What those of us concerned for children grapple with is how to address those parental wounds – for the sake of the children, as much as for the sake of their parents.

        You experience was truly brutal. However, most of those who intervene to safeguard the lives of addicted children do not do so w/ the intention of hurting their addicted mothers. The hope rather is to rescue those children. The friend I mentioned (above) who fostered such children ached for them, when their parents were incapable. She fed them. She changed them. She rocked them. She cared for several until they died.

        It is wonderful that you triumphed over your addiction. Unfortunately, many others do not. How are we as a society to respond? How are we to prevent more children’s lives from being lost?

        Legal systems can be put in place. But they will always be inadequate to the task. My experience has been that only God is capable of healing broken lives.

        God, of course, sees us all as His children. He knows our brokenness. He knows the circumstances which lead us to make unwise decisions, to seek solace from everyone and everything but Him. May His love surround you as you go forward w/ your life.

      • As I said, this was my last word and there is much you say that is absolutely not factually correct. It is, and I hate this word, a moral hysteria, driven by a superiority kick more damaging than any hard drug… And keep those damn prayers to yourself. You have had enough of my energy.

      • I am very sorry you feel that way.

  11. Pingback: Addicted at Birth – NarrowPathMinistries

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