Prescription Addiction: An epidemic at home
Prescription pill abuse doesn’t just impact the person taking the drugs. Some of the youngest victims are just days old. They are children born to mothers who took the pills during pregnancy.
It’s difficult to watch a newborn suffering withdrawal symptoms brought on by his mother’s prescription drug abuse.
“They have shaking and tremors,” described Carla Saunders, a neonatal nurse practitioner at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. “They have irritability. They cry a very high pitch piercing cry and are very difficult to consul.”
It’s called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. Newborns with the condition are stiff and rigid, unlike infants born drug-free, which have more flexible bodies.
Working at ETCH, Saunders sees the signs of suffering regularly.
“In the past four years of our program we’ve treated over 1,000 babies just for withdrawal, not all of our other NICU babies,” she said.
But Children’s has found success it treating their tiny patients and has gained national attention for its holistic approach. Caregivers from all walks of medicine have come together to create a comprehensive, standardized plan that begins with weening the babies off the drugs with narcotics.
“We try to use as little as possible by doing things such as our cuddler program. When babies can be comforted by human touch and being held, that’s how we want to do it,” described Saunders.
She says a specialized diet can reduce vomiting and diarrhea that accompanies withdrawal, and a quiet dark room can be soothing in the midst of their suffering. She says the remedy for NAS is treating the root of the problem– prescription drug abuse among mothers and its far reaching impact.
Saunders says with the standardized treatment they are providing these newborns, they’ve been able to reduce their hospital stay to 21 days, down from 28 days.
To look at them, Anna Claire and Nancy Daniels are your typical family– loving, involved parents with a talented daughter.
Anna Claire began playing golf at a young age and scored a scholarship to play in college, but her dream of going pro was derailed. She started playing this sport by searching for the best golf balls for beginners and going to classes every weekend.
“Not at any point did I think I would have a problem with prescription drugs,” she said.
Anna Claire freely admits she is a recovering addict. Her addiction started in college with marijuana and then escalated when she started hanging out with the wrong people.
“My first opioid was a Roxy. That was it. That was the drug; that was the feeling I wanted to feel all the time,” she explained.
And that was just the start of her spiral downward.
“Opanas, oxycontins, hydros anything with an opioid in it to make me not sick,” said Anna Claire.
She ended up dropping her golf scholarship. She started stealing from her parents just to score enough money to keep up her $200 a day addiction.
“She got down to 85 pounds,” said her mother, Nancy. “I really thought she could die.”
In a desperate attempt to save Anna Claire, Nancy staged an intervention surrounded by family and friends.
“I basically told them I don’t have a problem, stormed out and went and got high,” recalled Anna Claire. “A month later I came to my parents’ doorstep and said ‘ok – I need help.'”
She got help through intensive rehab; there were a few relapses in between. Anna Claire is now three years clean and still Nancy remains a mother on a mission.
“My mission is to save lives,” she said.
She says the drug Naloxone is the life saver. It’s an antidote that can bring a person who has overdosed on opioids back to life. Nancy’s goal is to get it in the hands of those who need it most.
“I would really like to see the other families and friends, but particularly the users and people in recovery and people coming out of jail to have access because that’s where the highest overdose rate is,” she said.
Nancy has also developed an app for smartphones and tablets – You Are Linked to Resources. It serves as a clearing house of information about all aspects of addiction.
Download the app: Google Play store
Download the app: Apple app store
Anna Claire got her second chance and she is on a mission to give others that same chance. As a graduate of the UT College of Social Work, she’s traveled to Africa to help people there fighting alcohol and drug addictions.
Both mother and daughter say in turn – they’ve gained more than they’ve lost.
“Our lives are so much better now than what we could ever dream—the opportunities that both of us have been given to help others as they go through this path,” said Nancy.