9 Investigates: Lawmakers struggle to find solution as number of opioid-addicted babies rises

By: Karla Ray

Updated:

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Alarming new numbers presented to lawmakers in Tallahassee show the opioid crisis is impacting even more babies in Florida.

Over the last year, there has been a 70 percent increase in the number of babies born addicted to heroin and pills, and Orange County continues to land close to the top of the list.

Orange County remains third in the state for the number of babies born addicted; 327 were born addicted last year.

Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a solution to prevent another sharp increase.

Winnie Palmer is the first home for some of the thousands of babies born in Florida addicted to heroin and pills.

In a presentation to the House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee, child welfare workers revealed the problem is only getting worse.

Death Trap: Central Florida's opioid crisis

Representing the state's 33 Healthy Start programs, Faye Johnson showed lawmakers the numbers.

“Twelve to fifteen babies per day,” said Johnson.

In 2015, 2,487 babies were born addicted statewide. That jumped by 70 percent in 2016 to 4,215.

“It's very difficult when you see a baby in the NICU screaming and crying because they didn't have a choice to be born addicted. They didn't have a choice to use drugs or not,” Johnson said.

The Department of Children and Families found the Opioid crisis is having a direct impact on the number of children removed from homes; newborns represent 38 percent of all children placed into foster or DCF care.

“Those are our babies. Those are our most vulnerable populations being directly impacted by this phenomenon for drug use,” said Joshanda Guerrier of DCF.

The department is proposing changes to state law for 2018 that would allow child protective investigators to get involved earlier in cases where there is prospective harm to children due to drug use.

Watch: What you need to know about opioids

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