Sullivan County

Sullivan County has highest rate of drug addicted babies in TN

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - The Tennessee Department of Health collected data on Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) from 50 hospitals throughout 2013. They released weekly reports on how many babies were born with it in counties statewide.

It's the first year they've done this, according to their website.

We took a look at the data from the last report in December and found out that Sullivan County has the highest rate of NAS in the state.  Northeast Tennessee, as a region, has a rate 3.3 times higher than the state average.

There were 855 babies born addicted to drugs in Tennessee in 2013. That's about 250 more than the Department of Health expected.

"There's a baby born every hour addicted to drugs," said Alice McCaffrey, with the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition. "In Eastern Tennessee and Sullivan County, almost 10 percent of all NAS babies born in Tennessee are here."

That's about five times higher than the state average, according to the Department of Health. Eighty-four babies were born in Sullivan County with NAS in 2013.

The Department of Health reports at least 40 percent of the women giving birth to these babies are taking prescription medications.

"We do know that Tennessee has an extremely high rate of giving out prescriptions and we have a high rate of people addicted," said McCaffrey.

McCaffrey told us that unexpected pregnancies are another problem. She said it's important for women to get help for their drug addictions before they become pregnant. McCaffrey told us recovery can take a long time.

"Twelve weeks to stabilize, 12 weeks for early recovery, 12 more weeks for middle recovery and then you need to still sustain it with all kinds of services," she said.

McCaffrey told News 5 that mothers are advised not to go through detox while they are pregnant because it could be deadly to their unborn baby.

Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney William Harper told us legally, there's not much that can be done.

"Until a couple years ago, we were able to prosecute these types of cases and then there was a change in the law and we haven't been able to do that," said Harper.

He told us that in most cases the mothers were put on probation and sent to rehab. Harper said now they aren't getting the help they need.

"She hasn't been able to get the treatment and there's nothing out there to compel her to get the treatment," he told us.

Harper told us this is a problem because they see women having multiple children with NAS.

He said even though they can't prosecute, the District Attorney's Office still keeps track of the number of babies born with NAS in Tennessee.

Harper told us there is a new law being discussed that could allow mothers to be prosecuted once again.

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