A small army of volunteers called “cuddlers” help the staff at the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s neonatal unit. These amazing volunteers hold, rock and generally help babies born with prescription drug addiction get through their withdrawal symptoms. Because these babies in Knoxville, TN have neonatal abstinence syndrome; they have been born drug dependent, many of them to anti-anxiety medications.
Bob Woodruff, one of the 57 cuddlers for the hospital, gently rocks Liam, a 10-day-old infant who was born drug-dependent. The 71-year-old retired professor moves from room to room, wherever he’s needed.
“It’s very satisfying,” he said.
Tennessee is the first state to track the number of babies born dependent on drugs. The surge they are experiencing is mirrored across the country, as well as the hospital’s concern over this surge. In 2008, there were 33 kids born dependent. In 2012 there were 283. This year they are expecting over 320 just in this particular hospital. Although the US government does not track these numbers, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than 1300 babies were affected nationwide in 2009.
The preferred way to treat babies with prescription drug addiction is to give them small doses of an opiate, usually morphine, and then gradually wean them off. This process may take days or even weeks. Meanwhile, the babies are going through a really rough time: excruciating pain, nausea, vomiting, severe stomach cramps and hideous diarrhea. These little ones have trouble eating, sleeping and may have seizures along with skin conditions and tremors. Many will wear mittens to protect their skin while they constantly rub or scratch their faces. And they are just inconsolable.
Government officials are working toward getting warning labels put on medications to caution women of the effects of taking these drugs while pregnant.