Babies feeling impact of prescription drug abuse

HealthMedicinePharmaceutical IndustryGil Kerlikowske

For 20 years, the Pediatric Interim Care Center (PICC) in Kent has been a safe haven for drug addicted babies. It’s a place where infants go to detox from drugs they had no choice in taking. 

"This is a little one that we're trying to get off her meds but we're having a difficult time because she's seizing,” founder Barbara Drennen said as she points at a crib with a bundled infant.

She's only a week old, so they keep her swaddled tight and monitor her heart. Drennen said it's been a rough road for the infant.

“Because of the tremors, she's on quite a high dose of morphine” Drennen explained. The girl is one of a growing number of babies that come to the facility addicted to prescription drugs. 

“Our babies have from four to seven drugs in their system,” Drennen said. 

As directions shift away from cocaine and meth in the war on drugs, more and more infants are found to be addicted to drugs found in many medicine cabinets.

PICC Medical Director Dr. Peyton Gaunt said many babies appear normal at delivery. 

"Within a few days, as the drugs leave their system, they start showing symptoms of withdrawal," Gaunt said. "They'll have shaking, be jittery, be irritable and they'll have tight muscles and difficulty feeding.”

In addition to see addiction to different medications, PICC is also seeing different types of parents: A number of these babies belong to upper- and middle-class families. 

“They don't have a clue how bad their child will be affected by the medications," Gaunt said.

National Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske toured the center to see the impacts of this epidemic. 

“We really need to involve public education at a much higher and greater level,” he said. “That's what we're trying to do.”

The average stay for a baby at the detox center is 30-60 days. Experts said there’s not a lot of data about the long-term impacts, but Drennen believes the babies can overcome any problems.

“Someone needs to speak up for the babies,” Drennen said. “They deserve a chance.”

It's a rough start for these infants, but in a stable home environment Drennen believes they can thrive.  She hopes that by sharing their stories, people will understand that while the drugs have changed, the side effects of drug abuse are still the same.


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