Thursday, 16 November 2017 10:17

Children of the Opioid Crisis: The untold story part 1 Featured

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BANGOR - We've all heard how men and women are becoming addicted to opioids, fentanyl, or heroin and overdosing. In Maine what we haven't looked at, is how these drugs are affecting babies and children.

In part one of "Children of the Opioid Crisis: The Untold Story" we explain how opioids are affecting babies and what happens when they're born drug dependent.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, in 2015 12.5 million people misused prescription opioids and over 820,000 people used heroin.


In Maine the number of babies born dependent on drugs changed drastically between 2009 until 2014. Since then it's been stable across the state.


"In the last four years the rate has roughly been a-thousand-a-year so it has been steady," said Dr. Chris Pezzullo, Chief Health Officer for The Department of Health and Human Services in Maine.


"Over the last 5 years we run about 185-to-200 babies who have been exposed to opioids during the pregnancy," said Dr. Mark Brown, of Eastern Maine Medical Center.


If taking opioids during a pregnancy stopping can lead to withdrawal which can then put the pregnancy in jeopardy.


"The body's autonomic nervous system response to withdrawal puts the uterus in a very stressful situation with contractions and etcetera and then that threatens the baby and fetus and the pregnancy," said Brown.


Not all babies born drug depended were exposed to illicit opioids or drugs.


"For moms who have medicaid as their primary insurance who were pregnant and who had an Opioid abuse disorder, over 80 percent of those moms were in medication assistant treatment during their pregnancy," said Pezzullo.


Dr. Pezzullo explains it's hard to determine what the drugs are doing to the growth and development of the baby inside the womb because of multiple factors.

"A lot of moms using opioids during pregnancy may also use other substances...I think the NIH is taking a look at long-term studies to see how these babies are doing but probably it is going to be another 5-10 years before we know specifically what opioids might do to a developing brain and fetus," said Pezzullo


The withdrawal period babies will go through once born is called neonatal abstinence syndrome. Also known as NAS.


"In utero, the baby is getting a supply of opioits, opioids. And then at the time of delivery that goes away. And it precipitates withdrawal," said Dr. Brown.


Hospitals will use a scoring system to asses how the infants are doing and try to help alleviate them during withdrawal.


"If they score above a certain threshold, then they are watched more closely and considered for treatment for withdrawal," said Pezzullo.


"What we first start seeing is kind of just irritability, they can't get comfortable. We swaddle them nice and tight. We feed them when they're hungry. They sometimes have tremors. They start sneezing, they get kinda stuffy. Their cry is a little high-pitched," Said Nicole Loranger, Assistant Nurse Manager at the NICU and Pediatric at EMMC


How long the baby goes through withdrawal, depends on what type of opioid the mother was taking. For some babies, it can take a few weeks. For others it can be several months.


"A controlled medication assistance treatment is certainly going to be safer for mom and baby than just an illicit substance at different strengths amounts and frequencies," said Dr. Pezzullo.


In Part 2 of Children of the Opioid Crisis: the Untold story, we take a look at the big picture. What are the long-term affects of being born drug dependent and where does the state go from here.

Gina Marini

Morning Anchor/Reporter

Gina Marini, a graduate of Curry College, joined WVII ABC7 and WFVX Fox 22 after spending a little more 2 years with NH1 News in New Hampshire. During her time there, she spent time traveling the state bringing local stories to Granite-staters. She brings passion and enthusiasm to the news room, hoping to inspire those at home with her stories.

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family. She also has a love of anything fluffy and shopping. If you see her out and about, say hello.