Every month, dozens of mothers suffering from heroin addiction give birth, and their babies enter the world with heroin running through their veins. It’s a heartbreaking side effect of the area's heroin epidemic.
They take their first breaths addicted like their mothers.
In a video from the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Washington state, you can hear the high-pitched cries of addicted newborns and see them shaking.
We spoke with the mother of a heroin addict in Lackawanna County--an addict who gave birth in January to a son born two months early and hooked on drugs.
“Have you ever seen a baby go through withdrawal?” she asked. “I was devastated. How could somebody do this to an innocent child?”
She did not want us to reveal her name because she is trying to get help for her addicted daughter and her baby grandson.
“It’s sad to say that this innocent person had to be born into the horrible world of addiction,” she said.
According to Pennsylvania's Health Care Cost Containment Council, it’s happening at record levels, as the number of drug addicted babies born in Pennsylvania more than doubled over the past 15 years.
In Susquehanna and Wayne Counties, about four percent of infants are now born addicted to heroin or painkillers.
In Pike County, that number is over five percent: one in every 18 babies born in Pike County is addicted.
In Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties, the number is two percent and straining the professionals who care for them.
Tricia Newell is a neonatal intensive care nurse at Geisinger Wyoming Valley near Wilkes-Barre. Incubators that fill her unit await the next tiny addict.
“Seeing them suffer and not being able to alleviate the pain, it’s difficult to see that,” said Newell.
At Geisinger's Janet Weis Children’s Hospital near Danville, neonatal doctor Lauren Johnson treats one addicted newborn every month.
“We’re definitely in the phase of things getting worse, but we are also in the phase of people finally realizing that,” Dr. Johnson said.
Dr. Johnson says there have been a few breakthroughs. Her staff is getting mothers-to-be into rehab early in their pregnancies.
“The risk of pre-term delivery, fetal death, that is all much more increased if mom is actively abusing,” she explained. “If, on the other hand, she is on treatment, while the world is not perfect, but it is a much safer place for that baby.”
“My daughter’s a full blown heroin addict, sometimes using 10, 15, 20 bags a day.”
The grandmother we spoke with says her daughter never sought help and shot up heroin just four hours before giving birth.
Six weeks later, the baby is still hospitalized and needs around the clock care.
“What type of life will he have? We don`t know.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, babies born addicted are more likely grow up with low IQ's and learning disabilities. The grandmother says her grandson is also at risk of being hearing impaired and going blind.
That baby’s medical care could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars before he gets out of the hospital.
As for the baby's mother, she is still living in Lackawanna County and still addicted to heroin.