Born Addicted: Number of babies born drug-dependent sky-rocketing in Central Ohio
It's a jarring reality. Health officials say the opioid epidemic is now surpassing the wide-ranging issues of crack cocaine in the 1980's. With it, a disturbing trend: thousands of babies born drug-dependent. The numbers here in Central Ohio are sky-rocketing.
However, there is help available for mothers. But the problem is having a big financial cost on the state.
"She smiles, she laughs, she's so pretty and it's so cool when you see kids and you see they're like you, but better. That's what she is. That's what my kids are," said Dickerson.
It's one of Kira Dickerson's greatest joys in life is being a mother.
Her 9-month-old daughter and 5-year-old son are the main reasons she's fought to stay clean. All of it despite years of addiction, starting with pain pills as a teen, moving to heroin and a series of harder drugs.
"I cared about my kids and I was able to focus enough on that and fortunately get enough help," Dickerson told FOX28.
The battle to stay sober has been constant.
"You don't know what I deal with in my mind every day. Even clean we have that," said Dickerson.
Unfortunately, Dickerson is certainly not alone. Mothers across Central Ohio are fighting the pull of addiction. Thousands of newborns are now feeling the effects. According to research conducted by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the years studied (2004-2011), more than 5,000 babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS. Many were opioid dependent.
Dr. Krisanna Deppen, an addiction medicine specialist with Ohio Health, told ABC 6/FOX28 that these children suffer from a number of painful symptoms. Among other things: cold sweats, irritability, and trouble sleeping.
"I think all over, across the state and the country we're seeing those numbers continue. Unfortunately, I believe continuing to rise. They are just experiencing the physical withdrawal from no longer getting that medication or drug from the mother," said Dr. Deppen.
Not only is there a physical cost, but a financial one as well. NAS is taking a toll on Ohio's healthcare system. According to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, treating newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome was associated with more than $70 million in hospital charges in a years’ time. The cost to treat these infants was five times higher than the average birth. Some children were forced to be in the hospital weeks or longer for treatment.
Dr. Deppen told ABC 6/FOX28 that a large percentage don't have lingering health effects, but the research is ongoing.
"So there's a lot of concern about what happens to these kids later and some of that we're continuing to follow these babies over time to make sure that they don't develop significant problems. What I tell my moms and I think is true is that it matters somewhat less what these babies are exposed to in utero, or while the moms pregnant, and matters a whole lot more that they have a safe sober environment to grow up in. When kids have that, their outcomes seem to be similar to other kids," said Dr. Deppen.
For a large portion of drug-addicted mothers in central Ohio, that help starts with a number of outreach programs. ABC 6/FOX28 was allowed into a training session of the state's "Maternal Opiate Medical Supports Program or "M.O.M.S" as it's known.
The meeting was held at Compdrug, one of Columbus' leading treatment centers. It was a collaboration of medical leaders, health care providers and community groups. M.O.M.S. launched statewide just a few years ago. The aim of the program is not only to help dependent mothers in their recovery, but also to have continued treatment for their baby, as well as housing and even employment help. Dr. Mark Hurst is one of those who spearheaded the program.
"It certainly became recognized that we need to provide more services in order to have the best chance of good outcomes for mom and baby over the long term," said Dr. Hurst.
Dickerson told ABC6/FOX28 that she knows the importance of that support on the road to recovery.
"Addiction is so cunning, so baffling and it's like you're fighting against yourself and it's like you're your own worst enemy," said Dickerson.
Dickerson's infant daughter suffers from a few medical issues, but she does not attribute it to drug use. In fact, she says she was clean during the birth of both kids. Her mind now clear as she works to remain drug-free.
"I'm so glad that I get to be present today," Dickerson told FOX28.
She now speaks out, urging mothers to be to reach out for help if they need it.
"You can get clean for someone else, you can't stay clean for someone else, but whatever gets you there," said Dickerson.
That advice is not only beneficial to mothers but their unborn children as well.
Research is still being done, but health experts stress to ABC 6/FOX28 that many of these kids don't have lingering health issues. No mental issues, or ADHD. However, more research is still being done.
The experts that we spoke with say life-style after birth has much more of an impact.
The state of Ohio continues to pour millions of dollars into opioid treatment programs. A large part of that is now being focused on pregnant women. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has a long list of treatment services for women who are expecting, as well as resources to help their unborn children.