The number of babies born addicted to heroin and other opiates is growing in Wisconsin. Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows the number increased 125 percent between 2009 and 2014.
At Aurora Baycare Medical Center, the Neonatal Care Unit is on the front line of this growing issue. Where doctors like Neonatologist, Dr. Candy Allenbrand, have seen an increase in babies born addicted to heroin or other opiates.
“It is a nationwide epidemic, escalating significantly over the course of the last 15 years – at least a 5-fold increase and that has been nationwide,” said Allenbrand. “Green Bay is certainly not exempt.”
For infants the goal is to get them through withdrawal – a process that can be difficult for both the child and hospital staff.
“It can be difficult to watch a baby struggling through withdrawal,” Allenbrand said. “They may have a high pitch cry, not sleep well, might have tremors, shakes, high tone, escalate to the point they might even have seizures.”
Statewide numbers in 2014 show that 8 out of every 1,000 babies were born addicted. Broken down by county in Northeast Wisconsin, Manitowoc had the highest rate at 12.3 per thousand; Marinette had 11.4 per thousand; the highest rate in the state was Ashland County at more than 27 babies born addicted of each thousand babies.
“There are increased rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children that have this issue while babies,” the doctor said.
Infants exposed to opiates in the womb are sometimes given medications to wean them off the drugs. It is treatment that often requires extensive care.
“These babies take a lot of resources, they take a lot of comforting, a lot of holding, swaddling,” added Allenbrand.
It is the new reality in this age of addiction – a growing problem impacting so many young lives.