Babies Born Addicted

There is an epidemic of drug-addicted babies being born in Tennessee and across the country. The challenge comes when these babies are born and start to go through a terribly painful withdrawal process called NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome).

Neonatal intensive care units in Tennessee are filling up faster than the health care system can figure out how to treat these babies being born to drug-addicted mothers. In the past decade, the number of babies with NAS has increased tenfold. Last year alone, there were 921 drug-dependent babies born in across the state.

Being at the forefront of this issue, Tennessee is struggling with how to go about addressing the problem. And it’s obvious that it’s not a cut-and-dry situation. State laws differ widely and are even conflicting to one another.

What it boils down to is this: treatment versus punishment/criminalization.

Shortly, there will be two laws in effect at the same time that contradict one another. One law encourages treatment while at the same time protects parental rights of those seeking treatment; however, the other threatens jail time for addicted mothers.

At the crossroads are the doctors who are attempting to treat these mothers and their babies. Laws like these leave doctors clueless as to what to tell their patients.

As you can see from the above paragraphs from Palm Partners Recovery Center, there is debate about the best way to prevent babies from being born drug exposed.

Should using mothers be treated gently, referred to services, and given the option to continue to care for their babies after birth (knowing that relapse or continued drug use is a possibility)? There are benefits to this approach. It encourages mothers to come forward with their usage, to be honest with their medical providers, and to receive early interventions. It bolsters the doctor/patient relationship and can set the mother on the road to recovery by her own volition.

Should laws be enacted (Sec. 7.3b. All persons required to report under Section 4 may refer to the Department of Human Services any pregnant person in this State who is addicted as defined in the Alcoholism and Other Drug Abuse and Dependency Act. The Department of Human Services shall notify the local Infant Mortality Reduction Network service provider or Department funded prenatal care provider in the area in which the person resides. The service provider shall prepare a case management plan and assist the pregnant woman in obtaining counseling and treatment from a local substance abuse service provider licensed by the Department of Human Services or a licensed hospital which provides substance abuse treatment services. The local Infant Mortality Reduction Network service provider and Department funded prenatal care provider shall monitor the pregnant woman through the service program. The Department of Human Services shall have the authority to promulgate rules and regulations to implement this Section) that demand that a mother and newborn are referred to DCFS care if the mother is an active user? There are benefits to this approach, as children are made certain to be in a safe environment where their early learning won’t be affected by drugs and their medical care can be closely monitored.

There seems to be no straightforward answer.

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