The state's crackdown on prescription drug pills mills is evolving into a battle to save babies born into addiction.
The number of newborns dependent on opiates and other addictive prescription drugs has increased six-fold since 2004, a statewide Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns Task Force learned today during a meeting at St. Joseph's Hospital for Women.
In 2011, more than 2,000 newborns were diagnosed with drug withdrawal syndrome, narcotic exposure or both, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
"When we're talking about solutions and what we need to do, we need to think big," said David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families and a task force member. "The cost of what this is doing is enormous."
Task Force leader and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said Tampa was where she first learned about babies experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms such as excessive crying, itching, diarrhea, a lack of appetite and an inability to be consoled.
Almost 14 percent of all babies born at St. Joseph's in 2011 were diagnosed with the syndrome, BayCare Health System reports show.
The trend is just as alarming at other Tampa-area hospitals, said Jane Murphy, executive director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County. The number of local children born with methadone or prescription opiates addiction rose from about 35 in 2007 to about 110 in 2011, said Murphy, a task force member.
The session was the second of four meetings for the task force that includes physicians, legislators and child health advocates. The group faces a January deadline to propose possible prevention and treatment solutions and its associated costs.
One hurdle facing the group is the tension between privacy rights of pregnant women and the responsibility of protecting unborn children. For example, many doctors legitimately prescribe opiates to pregnant women living with chronic or acute pain, said David Dixon, a task force member and Tallahassee obstetrician.
Carrie Reiter of Daytona Beach told the group she entered rehab to avoid having her baby boy experience addiction or painful withdrawal symptoms. The mother of three became addicted to legally prescribed pain killers following a 2007 accident.
"It was the fear of my baby going through this … that drove me to get help," the former registered nurse said of the six-month rehabilitation. "It was an unhealthy pregnancy, but he was born clean."