According to a new study a fifth of all infants born in the state of West Virginia are born having been exposed by their mothers to drugs and alcohol all throughout the pregnancy. Umbilical cord tissues revealed that marijuana, opiates and alcohol were all found to be commonly used by 19% of pregnant women in the study. 7% had exposed their children to marijuana, 5% to alcohol and 5% to opiates including painkillers. Many of these women had used a combination of harmful substances.
While the numbers may be startling to those outside the state’s drug care programs for those who are inside the situation it’s a relief to finally have the decade long problem made clear to the public. The problem has been steadily increasing in that time. Dr. Chaffin, a doctor who was a part of the study, has seen babies “zonked out on Valium”, drowsy, frail, and fighting to breathe, vomiting and crying as the small baby fights the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
Between 10 and 14 % of US babies are exposed to drugs and alcohol during their mother’s pregnancy. The mother’s drug and alcohol addiction affects the baby long after it is born and often leads to mental retardation in babies affected by alcohol. Even infants who show no obvious signs at birth can later have learning and social development difficulties.
759 umbilical cord samples from infants born this August were analyzed during the study. Early intervention is pivotal to resolving the problem and reducing the potential damage to the baby, but many mother’s don’t admit to their use out of fear of being judged for it. Many skip pre-natal checkups to avoid being caught. West Virginia lawmakers passed the “Uniform Maternal Screening Act this year which requires all maternity health providers to screen for pregnancy risks such as substance abuse. If substance abuse is present the use is to be kept from authorities until the pregnancy is over. 20,000 babies are born each year in the state and addiction could be hurting up to 4,000 babies annually.