The fate of drug-addicted babies

On Friday and Saturday, a few of us in Melissa’s lab went to Mount Desert Island, Maine for a neurobiological conference where I presented a poster from my research in the lab this past year.  A neonatal nurse from Maine Medical Center was very interested in our lab’s work with the nutrient, choline as it is shown to increase neurogenesis and enhance learning and memory.  She does work specifically with drug-addicted babies.  I became fascinated (and saddened) by the stories she told about the babies she sees who are in drug withdrawal when they are born, that is, they show similar symptoms of withdrawal in drug addictions – irritability, convulsions, sleep abnormalities, etc.  Clearly something needs to be done.  Why should these babies be compromised because of poor decisions on behalf of their mothers?  It seems so unfortunate that these babies should be compromised and immediately exposed to addicted mothers… it seems as though we already know their fate.  I did a little research exploring these different questions.

A study conducted by Chasnoff, Hatcher, and Burns, titled “Poly-drug and methadone-addicted newborns: a continuum of impairment?” looked at the effects of babies born to drug addicted mothers. Group 1 babies were born to mothers on well-controlled, low-dose methadone treated mothers.  Methadone is a common prescription drug used to wean addicts off of morphine and heroin addiction.  Group 2 babies were those born to poly-drug abusing mothers, and Group 3 babies were born to normal healthy control mothers. 12 infants in group 1 required withdrawal therapy.  Occurrences of congenital malformations were present in groups 1 and 2 and hernias and deformities.  Group 1 infants had statistically significant smaller sizes of head circumference.  These babies also showed more behavioral signs of depression (Chasnoff et al., 2001).   Clearly, these findings suggest that these drug-addicted babies are severely compromised and will have long-term effects.  However, it seems impossible to stop addicts from having babies while they are addicted, but a recent project is undertaking this great task.

Project Prevention is a national non-profit organization started by Barbara Harris in 1997.  The goal of this organization is to eradicate substance-exposed births by paying drug addicts and alcoholics $300 in cash to sterilize themselves or use long-term birth control methods.  It has paid more than 3,000 clients (29 are men) in about 39 states.  Harris and her organization were in Honolulu in early March of this year and the organization had a writeup in the local newspaper.  It is stated in this online newspaper that Harris believes that “nobody has the right to push his or her addiction onto an innocent baby” (http://www.starbulletin.com/news/20100309_Program_pays_addicts_to_get_sterilized.html)

Her initiative has manifested in her beliefs.  What a great idea, but can this really work?  The project’s website (www.projectprevention.org) gives readers their statistics as of March 26th, 2010 (just a few weeks ago from today!).

Here are some of them:

Total number of clients paid : 3,359

Total number of pregnancies among these clients: 14, 718

Total number of births: 10,291 (the rest of the pregnancies resulted in abortion or stillborn births).

Obviously, something needs to be done and this may be a great start.  There is also the question of whether the drug-addicted mothers should have the right to keep their drug-addicted babies?  Or will they revert back to their poor habits and perpetuate the problem.  Most addicts come from a background in which they have felt neglect, sorrow, and physical and emotional abuse.   Thus, their children may grow up feeling these same emotions. The problem gets worse.  I will leave you with a video that I thought was interesting:

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Natasha
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 15:20:28

    Sars, that was a really powerful video. I was so disturbed by the baby at the end of the video, where you could see his skin wrinkling on his legs. It was very sad to watch. I wonder if giving the addicted mothers choline during their pregnancy and even in the first weeks of the baby’s life would help them in the future or decrease their suffering of withdrawal symptoms. I think that would be interesting to look at, and it possibly already has?

    Reply

  2. Katie Gorman
    Apr 27, 2010 @ 00:54:55

    That’s a good idea, Natasha. I was able to find one study (Slotkin, Seidler Qiao, Aldridge, Tate, Cousins, Proskocil, Sekhon, Clark, Lupo & Spindel, 2005) that found that prenatal choline supplementation had mixed effects on the babies of pregnant rhesus monkeys addicted to nicotine. Cell damage in some areas was protected by choline supplementation, but in other areas choline supplementation actually made damage worse. The experiment also used vitamin C supplementation, which also had mixed results depending on the brain region.

    Reply

  3. Lia
    Apr 27, 2010 @ 03:52:17

    Wow! That was a startling video matched with crazy statistics that makes me cringe at the thought of addicted babies.

    Hopefully, Melissa and i will be able to add to this aspect of choline research and addiction next year!

    Reply

  4. Jenn
    May 12, 2010 @ 23:53:10

    thanks for sharing this. it is so heartbreaking to see this happening in babies. especially since they have no say whatsoever as to what they are exposed to in utero.

    Reply

  5. Debbie Eaves Fahnestock
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 22:37:29

    is there a way to share this on my facebook page

    Reply

  6. Sonia
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 20:53:24

    I am caring for children who were born to a drug effected mother and it is tough. One has more lasting damage than the other as the drugs were more powerful ones for the older child. Her developmental delay is strong and her behavioural problems are severe. This is a lasting issue that doesnt go away after the hospital has helped the child. It is so so sad, and i am a strong believer that there needs to be earlier intervention for these unborn babies. Someone with the relevant powers needs to make some tough decisions on protecting the babie once conception is relized, not waiting for them to be born. The rights of the mothers come first and that just doesnt seem right to me when the child lives with the conequences. :((

    Reply

  7. Melissa
    Nov 19, 2012 @ 22:06:25

    I am a third grade teacher and I have at least one drug baby every year. How can I research this to inform not only my instruction, but that of parents. I teach in a high poverty school and many lack resources. How can I help these kids?

    Reply

  8. Helen Hettinger
    May 28, 2013 @ 13:36:40

    how can you find information regarding the long-term effects. Here is why i am a 30 year old female, that was born addicted to opioids, benzodiazepines, and i have adhd gad, and a hole mess of other crap wrong with me. I wanted to ready if it was the drugs that made me who i am today, or if it was being raised by addicts and that lifestyle. Nature/Nurture or both ??

    Reply

  9. tom ganther
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 18:36:24

    Tom
    I know of a pregnant girl (17 maybe) that is a heroin addict, lives with her mom, boyfriend, and mom’s hubby, retired cop. Judge sentences her to rehab and she never finishes, multiple times. Cop keeps her from jail. He gives her $ to go to the mall, (right). we all know where she’s going ! This is called enabling. The chance of deforming or killing that unborn child hurts me sooo bad, am crying…I wouldn’t do that to a dog. she should go to prison for murder !!

    Reply

  10. Clare Batie
    Jul 29, 2014 @ 13:11:38

    I was born to a heroin addicted mother in 1991, and immediately placed into an incubator in ICU to undergo weaning treatment for 6 weeks. For these six weeks the only physical contact I received was that of nurses changing my tubes, and once a day my family were permitted to touch me through the sides of the incubator, only when wearing protective gloves. I’m no psychologist but the psychological effects I’ve suffered throughout my life down to this lack of crucial skin to skin contact, and physical contact with my family, have never left me. Now 23 I still feel alone, isolated and anxious even though my mother has passed away, and I have a ‘loving’ family remain. I find physical contact hard, and hugs are almost impossible. I’d love to talk to any of you who are interested, even if you can just help me try and understand how I’m supposed to feel, and maybe some advice on how to move forward. Thanks to you all.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 616 other followers

%d bloggers like this: