We’ve all been sympathetic at one time or another for children who were born and raised in what we’d consider less than fortunate conditions. Remember those commercials asking for donations for starving and malnourished babies born in far off places? Those TV bites would literally tear at our heartstrings. It was understood that the pain and anguish these infants were going through were by no fault of their own. Rationale told us that it was simply a result of the conditions they were born in. And despite how sad those images were – they were occurring in a distant land. Those messages were targeted to us because we would never allow something so awful happen to our children and as a result we were willing to help.
But did you know that we have a plaguing issue on the rise and it’s similar in nature. It’s not that we’re feeding our babies, but worse, mothers are having them while addicted to drugs. As a result, these infants are born with the same addiction. In spite of this problem, I doubt we’ll be seeing any infomercials anytime soon with famous actors and actresses, raising awareness and money for these infants being born addicted to drugs. The problem is growing at epic proportions and perhaps even more alarming is the fact that there is no consequences set in stone for these mothers responsible.
While the pains and images are different for these tiny babies than those facing starvation, the sufferings altogether might be considered worse. Adding fuel to this fire is the fact that the cause and effect aren’t necessarily due to poverty or politics, but rather through individual choices made by more and more mothers in our state, and across the country.
In Tennessee, one in three newborns are born drug addicts. That statistic reveals the depth of the illegal drug abuse problem facing our state. In fact, Tennessee ranks near the top of national lists for the abuse of drugs, prescription and illegal and is the leading cause of death in the state. It’s one thing to see people ruin their own lives by choices they make. It’s quite another to make a choice for an infant – who doesn’t have the ability to decide how they come into this world.
Just like those babies we’ve watched for years on television starving and need of a donation typically coined as “not much more than the cost of a cup of coffee per day,” these newborns are facing tragic consequences. Newborns addicted to drugs go through excruciating withdrawal after birth. They are inconsolable and cry constantly. They claw at their tiny little faces, have constant diarrhea, don’t sleep well and have a distinct and lasting cry.
Not to mention they endure tremors, seizures and have trouble eating. Some statistics say they have to be in a controlled environment with an average labor-intensive hospital stay of around 25 days. And some have to be weaned off their addiction with morphine, methadone or opiates. Some don’t survive. This sort of care isn’t cheap either. The cost of treatment can be range anywhere from $35,000-$90,000 and often is borne by taxpayers since most of these mothers aren’t insured.
One reason this grabbed my attention was due to a bill in the Tennessee legislature (HB 1295) proposing that a mother addicted to drugs and gives birth to a child who carries that same addiction throughout the pregnancy would be held accountable. The bill provides that a mother can be prosecuted for an assaultive offense or homicide if she illegally takes a narcotic drug while pregnant and the child is born addicted, is harmed, or dies because of it.
If the bill passes, mothers who give birth to addicted babies will be required to attend a drug court or treatment program. If they don’t attend or don’t finish the program or have given birth to more than on addicted baby, criminal prosecution could be brought.
It’s not surprising that these mothers are often chronic opiate users. In many cases, the medicine is legally prescribed. Others take methadone during pregnancy to try to get off other opiates.
Believe it or not, there is a faction that opposes this bill. According to them, they argue that if a mother is addicted and can be charged for her baby’s addiction, she would not go to a doctor for prenatal care. But members who support the bill argue that few such mothers obtain prenatal care regardless.
Drug addiction is a choice. Yes, some become addicted due to prescribed pain medication, but the decision to continue addiction is theirs alone, and a woman’s decision to do so when pregnant – to cause an unborn child to become addicted to drugs – should be a crime and should be prosecuted.
It’s important that this bill passes. While I tend to think that a “higher” court may enact it’s own penalties for something as appalling as this, our society owes it to ourselves to make sure there is accountability for doing what we can to bring healthy babies into this world. Anything less is simply atrocious.
Jesse Lindsey is vice president of Lebanon Publishing Co. and publisher of The Lebanon Democrat, The Mt. Juliet News and The Hartsville Vidette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jesse_lindsey.