Number of drug addicted babies in Virginia has more than doubled since 2011

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In the past 16 years, the number of children hospitalized for opioid poisoning has doubled.

Every 25 seconds, a baby is born hooked on drugs in the United States. Some would say that children are the most vulnerable victims of the opioid crisis.

WAVY sister station WRIC spoke with a mother who is a recovering drug addict named Sierra. Sierra spoke about her relationship with her daughter.

“She’s my reason. Before, I didn’t have a reason to get better,” Sierra said.

Sierra said that she is committed to staying clean.

“She just makes me want to get better and stay sober because I know she needs me,” Sierra said.

Sierra is now in a Richmond rehab clinic. Sierra is addicted to crack cocaine, but she is part of a growing trend of drug addicted women giving birth in Virginia.

As a result, many of them give birth to drug-dependent babies.

“She just makes me want to get better and stay sober because I know she needs me.”

WRIC spoke with Madeline Berry, a substance abuse clinician at the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, about the trend. This is the same place where Sierra is seeking help.

“We have had as many as 14 to 15 referrals in a month,” Berry said.

“For instance, last week, in one day, we had three calls,” Berry said. According to Berry, calls for pregnant women in need of treatment is at an all time high. Many of the mothers are addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin.

WRIC gathered information from the Virginia All-Payer Claims Database. In 2011, 392 babies were diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, meaning they were exposed to drugs in the womb. In 2015, that number more than doubled, rising to 807.

Both doctors and lawmakers said that they believe that number is vastly underestimated and that many more babies are going undiagnosed.

Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, who is also a pediatric neurologist, has seen the consequences of the opioid crisis play out in the delivery room. He said that such instances are heartbreaking for the newborn.

“The infant will be very depressed, that means that they are not breathing,” Northam said. “They have to be resuscitated.”

Some babies actually go through withdrawal the same way that adults do, trembling and wailing in distress. They often need medication and the long-term effects can be devastating.

“It impacts the child’s brain development, so we deal with these issues down the road with learning problems, behavioral issues,” Northam said.

Now, in an effort to keep this group in treatment, Richmond Behavioral Health Authority is providing moms-to-be and their kids a ride to rehab.

Case Manager Aide, Melodie Bradley described the services RBHA provides.

Sierra expressed her gratitude for the service.”They come here, we give them snacks … we mind them so they don’t have to worry about the kids,” Bradley said.

“It’s a really big relief,” Sierra said. “I know she is safe and I can be over there focused on getting sober and she can be here playing with other kids.”

Siobhan Dunnavant is a Virginia State Senator and Obstetrician. Dunnavant is concerned there are more women and babies than we know in need of help. As a result, she is working collaboratively to connect doctors around the state.

“They can begin to find out how we better identify who these patients are,” Dunnavant said. “How can we educated doctors and caregivers so that we do not let anyone slip through the cracks?”

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  • Half of young people who used heroin got started by abusing prescription opioids.
  • One in fifteen individuals who misuse prescription opioid painkillers will try heroin within 10 years.
  • The number of opioid prescriptions has nearly tripled over the last 25 years, and the United States now accounts for nearly 100 percent of the world’s hydrocodone prescriptions and 81 percent for oxycodone.
  • The number of Americans abusing heroin nearly doubled from 2007 to 2012, with nearly 700,000 now abusing heroin.

In Virginia, abuse and overdose deaths continue to rise:

  • Prescription opioid overdose deaths have risen 44 percent between 2007 and 2015, from 399 deaths to 576.
  • Heroin overdose deaths have risen more than 600 percent between 2010 and 2015, from 48 to 342.
  • Fentanyl deaths have risen 367 percent from 2007 to 2015, from 48 to 224.
  • More than 500 people went to a Virginia emergency room from a heroin overdose in the first four months of 2016, a 250% increase over 2015.