People have seen the images: inconsolable newborns wailing and twitching as drugs work their way out of their bodies. Prescription-drug abuse is an epidemic, and East Tennessee is an epicenter; about 65 percent of the state’s drug-dependent babies are born here. In 2014, 1,018 babies in Tennessee were born addicted to drugs their mothers used.
“It’s very distressing to watch a baby withdraw,” said Dr. Mark Gaylord, director of neonatology for the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, where about 150 of the hospital’s 853 newborns last year went through withdrawal. “They’re irritable. They have a high-pitched cry, runny nose. … They’re breathing fast. Three (percent) to 5 percent have seizures.”
Less apt to inspire sympathy are their mothers.
After trying — and failing — to get clean on her own, a woman detoxes cold turkey in a jail cell, terrified of miscarrying her son.
A woman cancels prenatal visits for fear of having her addiction found out, then gives birth in a car on the side of the road — and awakens later with no idea where she is.
A mother loses custody of two of her children and spends her days in a residential treatment facility, holding her roommates’ babies and longing for her own.
Addicts’ stories rarely have happy endings. But when the right programs are available at the right time, experts say, there can be hope.