Babies born addicted to opiates rises across WI

Posted at 9:54 AM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-08 10:54:04-05

WISCONSIN RAPIDS — The number of babies born addicted to heroin and other opiates is growing at an alarming rate in intensive care units across Wisconsin.

Over 500 addicted infants are born a year, a number that has more than doubled since 2009, USA Today Network-Wisconsin reported. Those births have been occurring throughout Wisconsin, including in relatively small, rural counties.

Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Department of Children and Families shows that the number of babies born with opiate addiction in Wisconsin increased by 125 percent between 2009 and 2014. The state's worst year was 2013, when 540 addicted babies were admitted to hospitals.

"We are definitely seeing a trending increase and I think this is a consequence of what we are seeing with the drug trends," said Anne La Chapelle, social work supervisor at Wood County Human Services.

Every county in Wisconsin has reported growing numbers of heroin-related arrests since 2008.

The increase in heroin use is the result of the crack down on methamphetamine production in 2005, as well as restrictions on the amount of opiate-based pain relievers prescribed by physicians and the rise in cheap supplies of heroin, according to Renee Krueger, director of Lincoln County Department of Social Services.

"It became easier to buy heroin with more people becoming addicted to heroin," she said.

Heroin is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome, with success often relying on a person's support and treatment, said Jamie Limjoco, a neonatologist and head of the neonatal intensive care unit at Madison's American Family Children's Hospital.

Staff in a hospital's the neonatal intensive care unit provide the necessary drugs and care for about five weeks to ensure the baby is safely weaned from opioids. The prognosis is good for a baby who's successfully withdrawn from heroin, but the child's home environment will make a greater impact in the long run, according to Limjoco.

"Some of these babies will do just fine, but if a baby goes home with the mother and the mom continues to abuse drugs and the baby is neglected or there are other environmental factors such as second-hand smoke or poor nutrition, it's not a great prognosis," she said.

A woman can be jailed for abusing drugs while pregnant in Wisconsin. But a pregnant woman who's addicted to drugs needs help and treatment, so she generally won't go to jail, Limjoco said.

"If a pregnant woman tests positive for illicit drugs, it needs to be reported, but we want the woman to get help during her pregnancy and following the birth of her child so that there is a good outcome for both the mom and baby," she said.