Babies Born Addicted in Tennessee Three Times National Average
There’s a law in Tennessee that makes it a criminal offense for a woman to have a baby born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS happens when the pregnant woman takes opiates or opioids – like heroin, morphine, prescription painkillers – during pregnancy and the baby is born addicted. NAS puts the baby through agony, could cause permanent damage, and risks the baby’s life. The mother is charged with ‘fetal assault’.
Unless you’re an addict, it’s hard to imagine what kind of hell an NAS baby is going through. They can’t sleep, are continually crying – loudly, and in a high pitch – they’re trembling and shaking, their muscles are tight, aching, they have diarrhea and a fever, and are yawning, sweating, and sneezing.
The mental and emotional agony is just as bad.
Drugs only last so long in the body. When the level of a drug starts decreasing, the body starts going through withdrawal symptoms. If the addict doesn’t have more of the drug in a relatively short length of time, the withdrawal symptoms continue to get worse and last for several days or a week. Sometimes longer.
The withdrawal symptoms are so bad that they keep addicts from quitting. Just the threat of withdrawal symptoms is enough to keep many addicts from going to a drug addiction treatment program – they know they’re going to have to go through it.
If the symptoms are that bad for an adult, imagine what it’s like for the baby – who has NO understanding of what’s going on or why, and no concept of it eventually being over. For the baby, living like that is simply life.
And in Tennessee, one baby is born with NAS every 10 minutes.
Taking care of a baby with NAS – which is done in a hospital, the baby doesn’t leave until they’re totally okay – is not only heartbreaking, it’s also extremely expensive.
Some people object to the law, saying that a woman who knows about the law is reluctant to go for help because they’re afraid they’re going to wind up in jail and / or their baby will be taken from them.
But what many woman might not understand is that if your baby is born with NAS and you’re in treatment, there’s a good chance you’re not going to be charged.
Also, many women say that the law drove them to get treatment – which is exactly the law’s intention.
Others say that this law is not decreasing the number of babies born with NAS but they don’t tell you exactly how that’s being counted so it’s difficult to say if it’s actually true – in 2009 there were about 3 in 1,000 babies born with NAS, and by 2012 that number had nearly doubled. If the numbers were increasing like that before the law was enacted in spring 2014, the ongoing growth of the problem has to be taken into account before anyone can say the law does or doesn’t work.
The law expires in 2016 when it comes up for vote again.
Do you think the law should stay or go?