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Baby born addicted to opiates every 19 minutes

Posted at 5:58 PM, Feb 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-05 06:43:01-05

The heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic is reaching all ages, including newborns.

The number of babies exposed to opiates while in the mother's womb jumped from about 5,000 cases in 2003 to 27,000 cases in 2013. That number is expected to have gone much higher in 2014 and 2015.

The problem is so bad that Sisters of Charity Hospital actually reached out to a local lawmaker and asked him to tour the NICU and see the problem first hand.

Every 19 minutes in the United States a baby is born addicted to opiates. They spend their first days -- or weeks -- of life going through withdrawal.

"At a time when the babies should be bonding with their mothers, instead they're experiencing this intense pain of opiate withdrawal often marked by tremors and inconsolable crying."

Senator Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo) toured the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on Thursday afternoon. He has already written legislation to increase education on opiates for doctors.

Doctors at Sisters Hospital say that would make a big difference.

"A lot of he providers who write prescriptions for opiate medications are not well educated on what the long term effects are for that," said Dr. Thomas Riley, the Director of the NICU at Sisters of Charity Hospital.

In 2015, there were 150 babies born addicted to opiates between Sisters and Mercy Hospitals this afternoon.

Riley added that more funding is needed to get help for mothers, who often become hooked on drugs after a car accident or back injury and then become pregnant.

"A lot of times while they're here, while the baby's here, we can convince them and help them get into a treatment program," Riley explained. "But sometimes spaces are limited and we have trouble finding them a spot."

The opiate and heroin epidemic has caused changes for adoption agencies too.

At Adoption Star, 26 percent of babies were classified as "at risk" in 2015. Many of them were exposed to opiates during pregnancy. That's more than triple the number of at risk babies born in the early 2000's.

"It's changed the educational process in terms of what are the substances people need to be educated about now," said Kathleen Crissey, the Director of Adoption at Adoption Star.

There has also been an increase in getting educational services for pregnant women.

"We will work to get them into substance abuse programs, so that for as much of the pregnancy that they are working with us, we can help them stay clean," Crissey said.

Kennedy said that the state budget has allocated $140 million towards fighting the growing epidemic. On Wednesday, he requested that some of that money go towards NICUs in New York State.