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: