Instead of the healthy cries of newborns, hospitals are now hearing an increase in shrieking just after birth — just one sign in a rising epidemic of infants born addicted to prescription drugs.
Nationally, the rate of newborns suffering withdrawal, or "neonatal abstinence syndrome," rose 330 percent from 2000 to 2009, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last spring.
In some states, it's much worse: In Kentucky, the rate rose 2,400 percent. In Florida, it rose 500 percent between 2004 and 2011, the Sun Sentinel reports. And those figures are likely on the low side, since they don't include infants without immediate symptoms who go home with parents who don't report their drug use.
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"It's a silent epidemic that's going on out there," Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told USA Today in its story on the issue. "You need to say: 'Stop the madness. This is too much.'"
It's no surprise that the numbers are high in Kentucky and other states with rampant prescription drug abuse. Still, when Van Ingram, executive director of Kentucky's Office of Drug Control Policy, requested statistics on infant hospitalizations, he was shocked.
"I was blown away," he told USA Today. "We need to slow the tide."
The statistics include withdrawal from all types of drugs, but doctors attribute prescription drugs for the spike.
Symptoms in babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome include everything from seizures to sweating to trouble sleeping, according to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Doctors may prescribe infants drugs similar to the ones the mother used during pregnancy and slowly wean babies off of them. Even after they are weaned, many face developmental and health issues from premature birth.
Whereas crack babies were more often born to low-income minorities, this epidemic seems to cross racial and socio-economic boundaries. Mothers of babies born with drug issues, they can face losing custody or getting treatment.
"These babies don't cry like normal babies, they shriek," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told the Sun Sentinel. "Once you see a baby like that, it changes your life."