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Fox 17 Investigates: Babies born addicted in Tennessee, Part 2

Fox 17 Investigates: Babies born addicted in Tennessee (WZTV)

NASHVILLE, TN - Babies born with tremors, and even seizures, due to a drug dependency passed down from their mother.

The amount of time they're staying in the NICU ends up costing into six digits per child.

And jail time for their mothers is costing us, too.

Fox 17 shows why so far, what we're paying to address this epidemic in Tennessee hasn't paid off.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center Obstetrician Dr. Jessica Young says, "It's an epidemic in our state."

Dr. Young has a clinic at Vanderbilt that helps pregnant women with substance abuse problems.

Her program is a rare find, combining prenatal care with substance abuse treatment since pregnant women are considered a higher risk population.

"By far, the majority of these women want treatment and have sought treatment and have very often encountered barrier after barrier after barrier."

Another barrier for treatment: A Tennessee law that has just sunset this month, sending women to jail for using drugs while pregnant.

Vanderbilt Neonatologist Dr. Stephen Patrick says, "There's been a worry that laws to criminalize drug use in pregnancy has made women not seek prenatal care, not deliver in hospitals and not be forth-coming to their physicians. That's pretty problematic."

Babies who doctors know are born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome often wind up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

TriStar Summit Medical Center NICU Nurse Patti Scott says, "I think the average length to stay is 2-4 weeks. But anybody that works in this area knows that sometimes these babies are in the hospital for a few months."

Babies with severe withdrawal are given an opiate like morphine or methadone to control their withdrawal and slowly ween down.

Dr. Patrick says in 2012, this one problem accounted for one and a half billion dollars in hospital charges.

That breaks down to about $100,000 per baby with drug withdrawal.

Babies born healthy have an average cost of $3,000 at birth.

Scott says, "In Tennessee, I believe it was last year, almost a thousand admissions to the NICUs across Tennessee were related to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. If these moms are on TennCare, for example, then that cost is attributed to those of us paying taxes. And it's a large cost."

And throwing these mothers in jail for it costs more than treating their addiction without even breaking the cycle.

According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, the average cost to house an inmate per day is $73.34.

That's almost $27,000 a year which is more money than the cost of treatment at Addiction Campuses.

So Fox 17 asks how to solve this problem.

Addiction Campuses Doula Amber Mohr says, "These women don't need to be separated from their children and punished. They need to be put in a situation where they're getting intensive help to learn new coping skills so they can kick their addiction, learn how to care for this child."

The Safe Harbor law still remains in Tennessee where if a drug-dependent mother seeks treatment by her 20th week in pregnancy, her kids can't be taken away and she can't be prosecuted just for her drug use.

Doctor Patrick says there has been a decrease in prescriptions being written for opioids.

If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, there is 24-hour help through Addiction Campuses.

Just call 1.888.614.2251 or find them online by clicking here.

CLICK HERE to watch Part 1 of the Special Report.

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