SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — The opioid crisis that’s ravaging the Tampa Bay area is now claiming the tiniest of victims. Hospitals around the region are seeing a spike in babies that are addicted to drugs like heroin. Doctors are desperately urging pregnant drug users to get help.
Last year, Florida doctors treated 4,215 newborns addicted to drugs. The Tampa Bay area ranks among the worst in the whole state.
Pat Saxon spends her days cuddling preemies at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. She watches and feeds these babies before they’re sent home. Some are harder to care for than others.
“You can tell from the screams and the crying, you can pretty much pick out which ones are the drug babies before you walk in a room,” said Saxon.
SMH is seeing a spike in babies who are in withdrawals because of their mother’s drug abuse. It’s called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and it occurs when the pregnant mother is addicted to illegal narcotics or opioids, like heroin. The number of NAS babies born in Florida has increased 10-fold over the past two decades.
Hillsborough, Sarasota and Manatee counties rank among the worst in the state.
At SMH, doctors saw 127 babies suffering from drug addiction.
“It’s sad. The babies, you can’t console them at times, they have tremors, they cry a lot, they have a hard time eating,” Paxon sighed.
Dr. Tony Napolitano said these babies are medically treated for weeks to ween off the drugs. The consequences are long lasting.
Studies have shown drug addicted babies experiencing learning difficulties as they grow older.
“They’re having problems with not being able to learn very well. They become somewhat dysfunctional, so even as they’re getting into adulthood, early adulthood, some of these children are having problems later on in life,” said Dr. Napolitano.
Doctors are hopeful these mothers seek help before it impacts more innocent victims.
SMH officials emphasize they don’t want to appear judgmental. They are committed to caring for everyone. If a pregnant woman is still addicted to heroin, please reach out and get help both for the mother and the baby.
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