Too many babies are born addicted to drugs

Editorial Board • Jan 8, 2019 at 3:31 PM

One of the little-known costs to society of drug addiction was revealed in a recent meeting of the Kingsport Board of Education where officials cited increased spending to provide special education services to children affected by neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS.

Tennessee is among the worst states for NAS and opioid addiction, and as more of these victims of their mother’s abuse enter the school system, more specialized instruction is required.

Board member Todd Golden said the general public needs to realize the effects of NAS are not just health impairments and developmental delays, but also the financial cost to local taxpayers to serve that growing population, which he said is increasing in part due to transfers into the city system by parents moving to Kingsport specifically for special education services.

Shockingly, Golden said when he and his wife had their youngest child four years ago, they were the only couple on the floor of a local hospital who didn’t have a drug-addicted newborn.

NAS is a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from drugs he or she was exposed to in the womb. It’s most often caused by opioids and, after birth, the baby can suffer shortterm effects for up to six months. Those effects can include tremors, seizures, overactive reflexes, excessive crying, breathing problems, fever, trouble sleeping and diarrhea.

As they get older, there are other potential challenges caused by NAS, including physical struggles and issues involving educational development and other mental aspects.

And it isn’t just drug abuse that injures developing embryos. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies have identified various effects of prenatal tobacco exposure, “for example, impulsivity and attention problems.” These issues may continue through adolescence and into adulthood in the form of higher rates of delinquency, criminal behavior and substance abuse, the academy reported.

As well, prenatal alcohol exposure can lead to behavior problems spanning early childhood to adulthood such as disrupted school experiences, delinquent and criminal behavior, and substance abuse. And inattention and impulsivity at 10 years of age have been associated with prenatal marijuana exposure. Hyperactivity and short attention span have been noted in toddlers prenatally exposed to opiates, and older exposed children have demonstrated memory and perceptual problems.

The cost to taxpayers for pregnant women who so injure their babies pales when considering what these children will suffer, some for their entire lives. It does those children no good to prosecute their mothers after the fact. Where society needs improvement is in educating women as soon as possible after pregnancy.

There should be a greater focus on protecting babies in the womb particularly for women identified as being at risk for drug, tobacco and alcohol use during pregnancy.

Babies are as deserving of that protection in the womb as after they are born.