Born addicted

People have strong opinions about women who use drugs while pregnant and their babies who are born with drugs in their system as a result. Many doctors support getting mothers healthy enough to take care of their children. The approach includes risk reduction and prescribing drugs to keep them from buying illegal drugs off the street. It also includes a parenting program that provides services for expecting mothers and new moms addicted to drugs.

Neonatologist Doctor Lisa McGill-Vargas says she sees babies withdrawing from drugs every week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MultiCare Deaconess Hospital. A newborn withdrawing from drugs is known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. Doctors use a scoring system to identify whether a baby is withdrawing. Signs include shaking, sweating, unable to feed and be consoled, a high-pitched cry and sometimes seizures. NAS is treated with music therapy, infant massage, occupational therapy and morphine for seizures.

Dr. McGill-Vargas says that the baby is their number one priority, but she believes mothers addicted to drugs deserve a chance to raise their children, even if they used while pregnant. Her hope is that mothers will reveal they’re using as early as possible so that she can start treating their baby sooner.

At Kootenai Clinic Family Medicine in Coeur d’Alene, Doctor Crystal Pyrak says she approaches patients on drugs with a risk reduction approach. Part of that includes prescribing buprenorphine, which helps with withdrawal. Even though a baby can still withdraw from buprenorphine, Doctor Pyrak says that stopping the mother's withdrawal with aprescription is safer than a woman turning to drugs off the street.

Kootenai Clinic Family Medicine also runs a parenting group called “Emerge". It's a holistic wrap-around approach for pregnant women and new moms addicted to drugs. It includes prescriptions to bupernorphine from doctors like Pyrak, but it also provides access to social workers, parenting classes, and other support that helps these new parents raise their children.

Both doctors say they have relationships with Child Protective Services and do report when they fear a child is in danger. However, they also say they support research that says a child's best chance is with their biological parent, and say they do what they can to make that happen when possible.