KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — If you’ve walked through the fourth floor of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, you’ve heard the high-pitched squeals and seen the uncontrollable tremors.
More than 1000 babies will be born with these symptoms in our state this year. That’s why Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law that would prosecute the moms responsible.
Doctors and nurses at ETCH have fought the law. Instead, they point to education and awareness. Because while the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome in Tennessee is set to hit 1,000, the number of prescription drugs prescribed to pregnant women is also on the rise.
Doctors are prescribing opioids to pregnant women at an astonishing rate, nearly 20 percent more than a decade ago. When addiction sets in, babies suffer the consequences.
Lizett Jarnagin found out she was pregnant at three months. At that time, Jarnagin was using drugs. First it was prescription pain killers, then subutex.
“I felt like to keep my kids healthy, I needed to use drugs because I was so scared of not using and going into automatic withdrawal and detox and losing my children,” said Jarnagin.
Her oldest, Luis, was born dependent. He spent 30 days in the NICU.
A few months later Jarnagin was pregnant again.
“I started using harder stuff. I started using it different ways. I went from… From being lost to being more lost pretty much,” said Jarnagin.
Malik was born with NAS, just like his older brother.
“It was horrible seeing them hooked to all the machines. Not being able to hold them the right way and just seeing them from a distance,” said Jarnagin.
ETCH is on track to treat nearly 300 babies with NAS this year.
“Lots of times we hear, nobody told me. My doctor said it would be fine,” said neonatal nurse Kyle Cook.
Meaning women who are first prescribed painkiller for back pain become dependent and so do their babies.
“These aren’t necessarily homeless women. These are your neighbors and friends,” said Cook.
While the NAS problem in Tennessee tops most states, so does the prescription pill problem. Here in Tennessee, doctors prescribe enough hydrocodone for everyone above the age of 12 to have 51 tablets.
That’s why doctors and nurses at ETCH say the end to this epidemic lies in education and awareness.
And they’re not alone. Moms like Jarnagin who’ve come out on the other side of addiction have a message to share as well.
“I put the drugs in my kids without them being willing. I forced them to be drug addicted because of my own selfish needs,” said Jarnagin.
Now clean and sober with the help of the Helen Ross McNabb Center, she’s looking for a job to mentor others to tell them there is help out there.