Number of babies born on drugs climbing rapidly

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As a journalist, I find constant learning experiences. There are many stories and even though they are community related, the hidden story often boggles the mind. In one sentence you become aware of a problem that you never knew existed.

As a journalist, I find constant learning experiences. There are many stories and even though they are community related, the hidden story often boggles the mind. In one sentence you become aware of a problem that you never knew existed.

This is the case in the story about the Angels Family Foster Network. In just a couple of sentences, Executive Director Jeff Wiemann talked about the increase of foster infants that they assist, that are born with an addiction to drugs, transmitted through the placenta and breast milk. He told me about fentanyl-laced heroin that was more of a problem on the East Coast and the Mid West but is making its way here to California. This conversation made me do some research. What I found was astounding. It’s not a new problem as there are specifics going back several years, but here are some interesting facts.

Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illegal labs are 100 times more powerful than morphine and up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Even at low levels, fentanyl is potentially lethal. 

For years now, the Mexican cartels have produced acetyl fentanyl, a fentanyl laced heroin. 

In 2015, Mary Lou Leary, a deputy director in the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy said, “Heroin is bad enough, but when you lace it with fentanyl, it’s like dropping a nuclear bomb on the situation.”

The opioid epidemic and the crackdown on doctor’s prescribing them cause many in the opioid dependent communities to turn to this drug.

That issue is what Wiemann is talking about when he looks to the future as this drug makes its way west. Within a few years, we will have infants that have been subjected to these drugs through the mother. That’s a frightful thought.

In my research, I came across a recent article from inewsource about San Diego County’s problem with babies born addicted to drugs. In the article “Babies on drugs: Another sad chapter in the opioid saga” by Cheryl Clark there are some hard-hitting investigative numbers. Even finding the chart placed on the website of the Statewide Health Planning and Development, shows an alarming wave in its increase of babies born with illegal drugs in their systems. For 2015, it showed the biggest jump at a horrific 59 percent. That is equal to a rate of 6.57 per 1,000 births in San Diego County alone. Statewide it is 7.29 out of 1,000 infants. The large increase is partially due to a new policy that promotes a more aggressive mother/infant screening, but that did not take affect until October of 2015. So the numbers cannot be skewed too much in that short amount of time.

In this column, I am supposed to come up with an opinion or a possible solution to this growing problem. I simply do not have one. My mind is still reeling. As I try to wrap my brain around these sickening numbers I have no clue what to do about this problem. However it is crucial that we understand the problem. Hopefully then, with enough awareness, a solution can be found.

I cannot explain how much I enjoyed learning about the Angels and what they do, but after this research and new reports I have a greater appreciation for the foster parents that are willing to take on these infants, often only a day old, and handle the problems of an infant going through withdrawals from whatever drug they were exposed to before birth. That is a lot of love and courage wrapped up in one package. It seems this problem will get worse before it gets better. It is my hope that more people will step up to the plate and give these infants a fighting chance at life, like the people in the Angels’ network do on a daily basis.

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