SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - Data from the Tennessee Department of Health shows a startling statistic.
Between January 1 and July 5 of 2014, 100 babies were born in Northeast Tennessee dependent on drugs.
They are called NAS cases, short for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
To date, 463 NAS babies have been born state wide. There were 921 cases reported in 2013. This led the Tennessee General Assembly to pass Public Chapter 820, which allows the prosecution of mothers who give birth to babies dependent on drugs. The mother can be charged with misdemeanor if she illegally uses drugs during pregnancy and the baby is born dependent.
The law is not without its opponents. The Tennessee chapter of the ACLU is currently looking for people to challenge the law.
"This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges. By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the pre-natal care they need," said Thomas H. Castelli, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.
The Sullivan County Health Department is taking steps to educate pregnant women on the dangers of drug use while carrying a baby.
"We've started some parenting classes in our jail and we're seeing some success. Is it slow, absolutely. Is it working in all cases? Absolutely not, but if we can make a dent and try to start and be aware that we can," says Linda Brittenham."We can educate. We're going to have to do some treatment, and then look at prevention."
Brittenham tells News 5 it costs $67,000 dollars to deliver and care for a drug dependent newborn. Some moms are on TennCare. Others do not have insurance, and that cost is passed on to the hospital.
"It is an epidemic in the state of Tennessee," said Brittenham.
Mountain States Health Alliance told News 5 that MSHA staffers do not report suspected cases of NAS to police. Rather, hospitals notify the Tennessee Department of Children's Services of cases. DCS handles investigation and will bring in local law enforcement if needed.
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