9 Investigates discovered a disturbing trend in Central Florida: The number of babies being born addicted to drugs is on the rise.
Channel 9 anchor Vanessa Welch examined the cause of the increase and spoke to a local mother who said she was terrified she might lose her baby because of her addiction. Despite that fear, the mother told Welch she couldn’t kick her habit during her pregnancy.
Her son, Ryan, is now 4-years-old. But the first few days of Ryan’s life were miserable.
He was in pain, screamed constantly and had stomach issues. The newborn was going through withdrawal.
“It’s not an easy thing to watch,” Ryan’s mother, Amy, told Welch.
Amy became addicted to opiates after a car accident and kept using during her pregnancy. Ryan inherited her addiction to Dilaudid and Oxycodone.
“It’s horrible especially when you know it was your fault and you were to blame,” Amy said. “You caused your child to suffer.”
Amy didn’t want us to use her last name. She is ashamed her addiction was so powerful even a pregnancy couldn't stop her from using the prescription drugs.
When Florida cracked down on prescription drugs, Amy tried heroin for a similar high.
“Pretty much heroin is an opiate,” she explained. “They are the same thing.”
Amy is not alone. The number of Central Florida babies born addicted to drugs has jumped 69 percent in recent years.
State records do not specify which narcotics those babies tested positive for, but area doctors have noticed an increase in heroin-addicted babies.
“Heroin is more available than it used to be. It’s cheaper than opiates and that is what’s filling the slot,” one doctor told Welch.
Opiates can slow a baby’s growth, impact brain development and cause still births. These children may also be at an increased risk for behavioral problems, and withdrawal can be torture.
“It’s heart wrenching,” the doctor said. “It’s very difficult to see a baby going through this.”
Every week, at least one or two of the babies born at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies is dependent on some type of drug.
Doctors give the babies methadone or morphine to ease withdrawal symptoms
Winnie Palmer runs the world's largest neonatal intensive care unit. Doctors and staff there are dedicated to treating drug-addicted babies who may need weeks to be weaned off opiates.
“I’m beyond grateful that he does not have any developmental issues or anything,” Amy said of her son.
Ryan is now 4 and shows no signs of his mom’s drug abuse. She has been sober for more than a year.
“I have the opportunity to be the mom I should be for them,” Amy told Welch.
In these cases, the Florida Department of Children and Families determines if a child must be placed in protective custody. If the baby goes home, DCF makes sure the mother is treated for her addiction and the baby is cared for.