KANSAS CITY, Mo. - As the opioid epidemic continues to claim an unprecedented amount of lives across the country, a recent study highlights the disturbing numbers regarding newborns born with opioid addiction in Missouri.
According to the Missouri Hospital Association’s recent report, Missouri has seen a 538 percent increase in babies born addicted to opioids in the last 10 years – a problem growing faster than almost all neighboring states.
The news comes after a large cluster of opioid overdose deaths in Milwaukee (eight) and Cleveland (14) over the weekend.
According to the CDC’s most recent numbers, total fatal opioid overdoses increased from approximately 28,600 in 2014 to more than 33,000 in 2015 (a 15 percent increase).
"We're seeing families addicted to opioids who were not previously addicted at all,” said Martha Gershun, executive director, Jackson County CASA.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a non-profit which helps abused and neglected children find safe, permanent homes.
Gershun said she’s seen more babies born addicted to opioids, but also mothers who are not pregnant but their drug abuse has made them unable to parent safely.
"We know it's an epidemic because we're seeing the number of families referred to drug court going up and we're seeing the impact of opioids on those cases,” said Gershun. "That increase is going to put a huge burden on the foster care system. You're going to see this play out for years."
According to University of Kansas Health System doctors, three babies are born suffering from withdrawal each hour throughout the country, many because of opioids.
Dr. Carl Weiner said every hospital in Kansas City is dealing with it.
"These are really scary numbers,” said Weiner, who works with high-risk pregnancy at the University of Kansas Health System.
"One in seven women who have commercial insurance will get a prescription for an opioid during pregnancy,” he said.
Weiner believes most pregnant women are taking opioids for pain in an innocuous manner because they were prescribed to take them by their doctors. Not only does he think opioids should be prescribed much less, but better treatment options should be readily available.
"There aren't enough facilities that exist to treat these women. It's a real problem,” he said.
Weiner admitted that many doctors and nurses aren’t trained properly to handle such an opioid addiction. He said expectant mothers going ‘cold turkey’ would be the worst option.
"We don't like withdrawal during the pregnancy, so that's the one time we don't want people going cold turkey,” he said. “We will try to work with the mothers to step wise, lower their doses and needs and hopefully minimize the impact on the newborn."
Unfortunately, minimizing that impact is very hard, especially if the opioids are layered on top of another addiction, which can often be the case.
"Were seeing opioid use replace other substances. We're seeing it later on top of meth. And we're seeing families addicted to opioids who were not previously addicted at all,” said Gerhsun.
Jackson County CASA is expecting to advocate to an extra 100-200 children this year because of opioids. They are currently recruiting an hope to train an extra 100 volunteers this year who will get special training on substance abuse.