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More Vermont babies born to opiate-addicted moms - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

More Vermont babies born to opiate-addicted moms

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Dr. Harry Chen Dr. Harry Chen
BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Newborns can inherit their parents' eyes, smile and even disease resistance. In Vermont, an increasing percentage of babies are also inheriting the physical need for powerful painkillers from mom's addiction to opiates, like heroin or prescription drugs.

For every 1,000 newborns, about 40 are exposed to the drugs in the womb. It's the second-worst rate in the country, and a rate that's risen year to year and over the last two decades.

"I would expect as our treatment numbers increase, as more people decide to make that very tough decision to go into treatment, then we're likely to see more babies who are exposed to it. But I also think that there's success here," said Dr. Harry Chen, Vermont's health commissioner.

Chen says Vermont has an addiction problem, but he says the state's rate also reflects a greater emphasis on treatment and a broader definition of exposure. Vermont is the only state that treats exposed babies with the same weaning drugs addicted parents receive.

"The evidence shows that if you treat them with medication-assisted therapy, you provide the appropriate supports, they're much more likely to, the baby's much more likely to go home with their mothers. And that's success," Chen said.

Pregnant addicts who come clean about their problems don't face the judicial system, but are instead offered social service supports and drug therapy.

Dr. Chen says Vermont doctors spot more kids than their less-trained peers elsewhere, contributing to the state's elevated rate.

"We might be a little further along than other states in identifying and tracking and addressing this problem, but I don't think that's the only thing causing us to have high numbers," said Abby Crocker, a researcher at the University of Vermont.

Crocker receives federal grant dollars to study the success of the varying treatment models used across the country. She says Vermont approaches the problem differently by focusing on addiction as a disease rather than crime.

"It works, but when we say it works, we know that sort of anecdotally, and we know it also from immediate outcomes. We don't really know what happens five years from now," Crocker said.

She says the current view of the problem's scope is based on billing, coding and immediate outcomes. Crocker would like to see a broad range of data collected from all agencies involved, from education to corrections. She says if you strip out details identifying patients, with more data and a few more years, we could have a more accurate picture of what works.

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