Live 5 Investigates: Addicted at Birth - babies born addicted to drugs

Live 5 Investigates: Addicted at Birth - babies born addicted to drugs

SOUTH CAROLINA (WCSC) - The number of babies born addicted to drugs in South Carolina has quadrupled in the last ten years, and you're paying for it.

In 2014, 357 babies were diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Ten years ago, that number was 83.

In this Live 5 Investigation we look at the consequences of using while pregnant, and what this growing epidemic is costing you.

The high pitched cries, tremors, seizures, increased heart rate and even sleep deprivation are just a few of the symptoms doctors watch for just hours after a baby is born.

Dozens of videos can be found all over the internet of babies going through withdrawal.

"It's very sad. They're very miserable. They're restless," said Dr. Lakshmi Katikaneni, MD., a Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Amber Shivers 23, of Mississippi, was born addicted to heroin and cocaine.

Her violent withdrawals caused rashes on her body from the constant rocking back and forth in the hospital bed.

"My biological mother has actually told me it was one of the hardest things to watch her child go through withdrawal," Shivers said.

During pregnancy a mother who uses exposes her unborn baby, potentially creating a new addict.

"Not all babies may be symptomatic, but at least 60-80% have symptoms," Dr. Katikaneni said.

Doctors say the orange container in your medicine closet can lead to the heartbreaking withdrawals.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, who obtains information from the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, popping prescription pain pills, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, is a big problem in the South.

"Right now it's opioid drugs, which are prescription drugs for pain relief, but people have started to use for recreation," Dr. Katikaneni said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Environmental Control tells WCSC the state doesn't keep track of the number of babies born addicted to drugs in South Carolina.

However, we found the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office is required to collect hospital billing information on these babies statewide.

According to the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, 357 babies were born addicted to drugs in South Carolina in 2014. Eighty-eight of those babies, almost 25%, were born in the Lowcountry.

According to that data those babies spent an average of 20.1 days in the hospital in 2014. A healthy baby born that same year, an average of 3.7 days.

"[Depending on the symptoms] we give these babies morphine every four hours, increase the dose as needed to stabilize and decrease the symptoms," Dr. Katikaneni said.

The cost of treatment, plus extended nights in the hospital can get expensive.

Numbers show the average bill for an addicted baby at a Lowcountry hospital was $84,000 in 2014, the highest in the state that year. Compare that to nearly $12,500 for a healthy baby.

A majority of these babies are covered by Medicaid.

A piece of every paycheck you make supports the federal program.

"It's worth the money to save children, obviously, but it is something that could be stopped before that has to happen," Shivers said.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health and Human Services said as of 2015 there are 1.1 million people insured under Medicaid in South Carolina.

Of that number, 15,000 are women who are pregnant.

Meanwhile, that addiction doesn't always end when the baby leaves the hospital.

"[When I was] about 13 and everything, I started drinking and using a lot, and I just continued my use up until about two and a half months ago," Shivers said.

Another side effect from addiction at birth, Amber was born polydactyl, meaning six fingers and six toes on both hands and feet.

"I had more than one surgery every year until I was nine," she said. "It's really an excruciating pain."

Today Amber is working to get clean with the Charleston Recovery Center.

She said she doesn't want to repeat the cycle of having a baby while she's fighting her addiction.

"Everybody's situation is different," she said. "For me I'm honestly grateful that I have not had a baby yet, because I do not believe that I could have stopped. No matter how much that I wanted it. It's not a moral defect. It's not about being right or wrong, it's not about any of that. It's something that once you get to a certain point, you can't control."

"We need to support these mothers, in every way we can," Dr. Katikaneni said. "Help them to realize their issues."

In most cases the mothers are allowed to see their children after giving birth.

Dr. Katikaneni said it's part of the treatment process for both the mother and the baby.

Meanwhile, several agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Social Services, law enforcement and hospital staff are all involved during the early stages of the baby's life.

They monitor the situation to determine whether the baby is fit to stay with his or her family.

There are several drug and alcohol treatment centers in the Lowcountry.

Those include Charleston Recovery Center, Drug Rehab Charleston, MUSC Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs and Charleston Center.

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