North Carolina, as is the nation, is experiencing an opioid addiction epidemic. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) one infant every 25 minutes was born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in 2012, and the numbers are continuing to rise. NAS occurs when newborn babies experience withdrawal after being exposed to drugs in the womb.
Every new parent wants a child that is happy and healthy, but opioid addiction and other drug use by a birth mother during pregnancy is something that makes many adoptive parents wary, and with good reason. However, the fact is many birth mothers choose adoption because their life situation makes parenting a child impossible or difficult. Often, the life situation can be traced back to drugs and alcohol. In the case of opioids, sometimes the usage starts innocently enough with a doctor’s prescription for medications like Vicodin, Percocet, Hydrocodone, tramadol, and Zanax, and progresses to buying these drugs on the street and using harder drugs such as Heroin.
Regardless of the circumstance leading to opioid addiction, there is currently an increase in the number of unborn babies that have exposure to drugs or alcohol. Adoption by a caring family can make all of the difference in this precious child’s life and help them to thrive as they grow.
Addressing the Opioid Addiction Issue
It’s a sign of the times that hospitals statewide have developed a drug-tittering protocol for weaning babies. In the case of a child that is going to be adopted, adoptive parents are encouraged to be in the hospital during the withdrawal period. Often a prescribed opiate such as Morphine is used to help the baby cope, with the amount prescribed being reduced over time. Adoption counselors with A Child’s Hope may also coordinate birth mother visits during the 7-day revocation period to help the baby by holding him or her.
Fortunately, the effects of opioid withdrawal pass within a matter of weeks and the babies seldom need long-term medication. At A Child’s Hope, we have had babies born testing positive for opioids who spend as little as four days in the hospital. The longest hospital stay with one of our babies has been 10 days.
Statistics indicate that it will take a total of six to eight weeks for all of the symptoms to disappear if a birth mother is on methadone for as little as one month before the delivery. Therefore, intervention as early as possible is essential to help the birth mother transition to medically prescribed opiod such as methadone, suboxone or naloxone. Then when the baby is born withdrawal will be easier and shorter.
To help identify potential drug use issues, our adoption counselors work closely with each birth mother. They ask about alcohol, drug and cigarette use in a nonjudgmental way that expresses our mutual interest in the health of her and the unborn child. In addition, criminal checks, Accurint checks and obtaining medical records can help reveal information that the birth mother may be too afraid or embarrassed to share. In short, we do a great deal to try to discover what, if any, substances a birth mother may be using during pregnancy. Then we try to help her and her baby in getting treatment.
Our policy is to do the best we can to get the birth mother into a substance abuse program. When appropriate, a regulated opioid, such as methadone, suboxone or naloxone, will be prescribed so that her cravings are controlled and the baby’s withdrawals will be more comfortable.
Managing the Opioid Addiction Fear
We connect waiting families who have concerns about adopting a NAS baby with some of our past placed parents who adopted babies who went through opioid withdrawal.
Three-year-old Jaxon is one NAS baby that is thriving now after being born testing positive for opiods. His mom, Shannon, talks about Jaxon’s care after birth:
“It’s hard to believe that its almost three years since Jaxon was born! Jaxon spent ten days in NICU, and I spent every waking minute with him. It was important for me to bond with him and for him to feel that love.
From day one, Jaxon was a happy, healthy baby boy who just loves life. I was never fearful of his drug exposure because I knew he had me in his corner fighting for him. I would get him any help that he needed. Jaxon was on morphine and then was switched to methadone. He spent nine months on methadone. So far we haven’t seen any long-term effects, there have been no developmental delays.
Jaxon is now 3 and so full of life; he always has a smile on his face. Anyone that is thinking of adopting a child with NAS, I beg you to take the risk. The joy that our son Jaxon brings to our life far outweighs the risks.”
A Child’s Hope encourages waiting families to do their research about the effects of opioids on the unborn, speak to your adoption counselor and a healthcare professional.