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 Number of babies born addicted to pain pills rising in Tampa Bay

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PostSubject: Number of babies born addicted to pain pills rising in Tampa Bay   Tue Jul 26, 2011 12:53 pm

Number of babies born addicted to pain pills rising in Tampa Bay




TAMPA --

The trembling can start just a day after they're born.

Fevers take hold and the newborns become irritable, belting out constant high-pitched wails. They can have seizures and respiratory problems. In severe cases, death can occur within 10 days.

They are newborns in withdrawal from prescription painkillers taken by their mothers.

"These babies are very sad babies," said Jean McCarthy, a neonatologist at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. "There's been a dramatic increase in the last few years. It's a huge epidemic."

The number of infants born withdrawing from opiate-based pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone is on the rise in the Tampa Bay area, doctors and other medical professionals say.

But few studies have been conducted to show how widespread the problem is and exactly how many babies born each year inherit their mothers' dependency on narcotic-grade pills.

Lacking comprehensive data, doctors like McCarthy keep count of babies in neonatal intensive care units that show signs of opiate pill withdrawal.

Last year, All Children's treated 97 infants born with the condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, McCarthy said. Forty newborns have already been discharged this year. There are always at least 10 babies at the hospital being treated for pill withdrawal, she said.

At St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, at least five babies at any given time are being weaned off the drugs, neonatologist Kenneth Solomon said. Sometimes, about 15 percent of newborns treated have mothers who abused pills, he said. St. Joseph's has 52 beds in its neonatal intensive care unit.

A pregnant mother addicted to prescription medication can't quit cold turkey. Patients can't go into full withdrawal either because of health risks.

"It could kill the baby," said Jill Hechtman, a Tampa obstetrician and gynecologist.

Hechtman sends patients with pill dependencies to pain management physicians she trusts. The expecting mothers, some of whom are addicts or need medication for chronic pain, are usually prescribed methadone.

"They still have pain. You have to treat them," Hechtman said. "It's fairly safe to be on methadone while pregnant."

Some of these mothers give birth to babies with no symptoms of withdrawal. Others are born withdrawing from the methadone treatments or the painkillers their mothers were taking throughout the pregnancy, doctors said.

It takes three to five days to diagnose a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome, Solomon said. That's the period when symptoms of pill withdrawal usually appear.

Difficulty breathing, incessant shrill cries, blotchy skin and extreme sensitivity to light and sounds are tell-tale signs. The babies are physically smaller than normal newborns and are more at risk for sudden infant death syndrome, Hechtman said.

Doctors use inexpensive drugs such as morphine or methadone to help newborns' withdrawal.

"It takes between three weeks to two months for withdrawal symptoms to go away," McCarthy said.

The effects of withdrawing from opiate-based pills can linger for years, Solomon said. The problem is so new that most babies are years away from reaching an age when the long-term impacts can be studied, he said.

There's a chance that, as they grow up, children can develop attention or behavioral disorders.

"It may be difficult for them to function in school and in society down the road," Solomon said. "It's alarming because of the effects on society. Are we passing the problem down the line?"

In some cases, infants may go home to an environment that tempts their mothers into abusing drugs again, said Victoria Ramos, a nurse at the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center in South Florida.

For three years, Ramos has worked with pregnant women who are detoxifying from pills, cocaine, heroin and other drugs.

"Most mothers are not just opiate dependent," Ramos said. "They've used other drugs too. Most, especially the younger mothers, need to learn basic parenting skills and how to juggle real life with their children. Moms with other children are even more of a challenge."

Women with babies treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome declined to comment. A few mothers had pending court or child custody cases and refused interview requests. Some women were undergoing counseling or drug treatment and too emotionally fragile to talk, spokesmen for local hospitals said.

"The moms are still dealing with their own issues of guilt," said Melina Goldenberg, a clinical psychologist in Pembroke Pines who's treated drug-addicted mothers. "They feel they've already done enough to their babies."

While doctors and nurses work daily to treat addicted infants, state officials are pushing for more awareness of what some have compared to the crack cocaine baby epidemic of the 1990s.

"My goal is to create a task force consisting of local and national groups that can help address this crisis," Attorney General Pam Bondi said. "Once we have the task force in place, we will be able to raise awareness through an educational campaign and gather much-needed data that can lead to better prevention, care and sound public policy."

The Tampa Bay area and parts of South Florida are considered a hub for so-called "pill mills," clinics run by unscrupulous physicians prescribing massive doses of illicit painkillers.

The popularity of painkillers as a recreational drug, a culture of popping pills to ease chronic pain and the ease of obtaining prescriptions contribute to the problem, doctors and health experts say.

"I don't know if someone who had their wisdom teeth pulled really needs Oxycontin," McCarthy said. "Pills have become the drug of choice for recreational use."

State legislators have passed tougher laws regulating pain management clinics. The bill, signed by Gov. Rick Scott on June 3, bans doctors from dispensing the most abused narcotics and penalizes physicians who overprescribe pills with a minimum $10,000 fine and six-month suspensions.

The bill also creates an online database that would track where narcotic-grade medication is prescribed and how often. Advocates of the system say it will help identify addicts and eliminate doctor shopping, the practice of taking one prescription to multiple physicians to get more pills.

These measures aimed at stopping the flow of illicit medication could reduce the number of babies suffering from pill withdrawal, Bondi said.

"I would like Florida to become the prototype for preventing prenatal prescription drug exposure," Bondi said.

"After seeing infants born addicted to prescription narcotics who refuse food, recoil from physical contact and are utterly inconsolable, I am committed to raising awareness so mothers can protect their babies."



obtained from the TAMPA BAY ONLINE and the original link is



http://www2.tbo.com/news/breaking-news/2011/jul/25/number-of-babies-born-addicted-to-pain-pills-risin-ar-246186/


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