JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - We're told nearly 1,000 babies born in Tennessee last year experienced withdrawal from drugs their mothers used while pregnant.
This week in Johnson City, health experts are meeting about something called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, also known as NAS. It's something that we're told is an epidemic in the region.
In 2005, a woman who asked not to be identified gave birth to a baby boy that doctors say was born dependent on drugs. "I was addicted to anything I could get my hands on, any kind of drug that was available," she told us.
We're told this is not an unusual case. Dr. John Dreyzehner is the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health. "921 babies were born in Tennessee last year with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and we have to be very concerned about that," he said.
He says this problem seems to be worse in the eastern part of the state, but many people may be surprised to learn more than half of the mothers get the drugs legally. "In Tennessee we know that 60 percent of the babies born to mothers, the babies that develop Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, their mothers had a prescription for the medication they were taking. Either for pain or treatment of addiction itself, the recovery or other conditions," adds Dreyzehner.
Now Dr. Dryzehner is leading the way into learning how changes can be made, because being born dependent on drugs is a difficult way to start a new life. "Typically people that take care of these babies will describe them as crying with a very high pitched cry, being very difficult to console, having difficulty feeding, just generally being very miserable," explains Dr. Dreyzehner.
One mother saw it first-hand and struggled to watch her son while he spent his first three months of life in the Intensive Care Unit. "I saw that he was going through that and it really hurt me bad. I thought, 'I'm not going through this again," she told us.
To give you an idea of the medical issues that result from babies born dependent on drugs, on average the cost for a Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome newborn is more than $62,000 -- a typical healthy newborn's birth is about $5,000.