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Florida’s Opioid Crisis: Thousands of Babies Born to Addicts or Removed From Users’ Homes

| November 9, 2017

nicu opioid crisis florida

A neonatal intensive care unit. (David Quitoriano)

More than 4,000 babies were born addicted to opioids in Florida last year, an increase of over 1,000 percent from a decade ago.

Substance abuse played a role in two-thirds of the cases where children were removed from their homes within 30 days of birth last year.

And there’s been a 38 percent increase in the number of children under the age of 5 who have been removed from homes because of substance abuse in the past four years.

Those are just some of the disturbing statistics rattled off by child welfare workers on Wednesday, in the latest round of hearings where lawmakers are groping to find a way to stem the opioid epidemic gripping the state.

“It’s very difficult when you see a baby in the NICU, screaming and crying because they didn’t have a choice to be born addicted,” Faye Johnson, CEO of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, told the House Children, Families and Elder Affairs Subcommittee. “It’s just very difficult to hear that high-pitched scream and to know that we’re doing everything we can and to also know that this is not the end. …There are years of trauma that come behind this.”

The experts said the explosion of neonatal abstinence syndrome — when babies are born addicted — has skyrocketed due to a sharp increase in abuse of prescription opioids, like oxycodone, and street drugs, such as heroin.

According to Johnson, many mothers are so high during their first two or three trimesters that they don’t even realize they are pregnant. And when they do find out, they are “flying under the radar” and reluctant to seek medical care “because they’re afraid of the consequences if they get caught using while pregnant,” Johnson said.

But newborns aren’t the only children impacted by the opioid crisis, which is responsible each day for the deaths of an estimated 14 Floridians and twice that number of non-fatal overdoses.

Florida has experienced “an increase in removals in almost every age group” and “in almost every region,” JoShanda Guerrier, assistant secretary for child welfare at the Department of Children and Families, told the House panel.

The agency doesn’t specifically track child removals due to opioids, but instead keeps information about whether substance abuse was a factor in the decision to take a child out of the home, Guerrier said.

Nearly 40 percent of the children who were placed in out-of-home care were newborns, who also remain in foster care longer, Guerrier said.

A study of a sample of children conducted in 2017 found that 125 of 158 newborns were removed from homes where other children had previously been removed, she said.

“Those numbers are alarming,” Guerrier said.

Children who were removed from homes where substance abuse was present stay in out-of-home care longer and come from families that have been the subject of previous investigations, according to Guerrier.

Child welfare workers have implemented some changes in an effort to ensure the safety of children with opioid-addicted parents or guardians, Guerrier said.

For example, the state has sent out behavioral health specialists to assist child protective investigators.

And the child welfare agency is proposing a change in state law that would allow children to be removed from homes because of “prospective harm” instead of the current requirement of “demonstrative harm.”

Agencies are also using “family intensive treatment teams” to provide “intensive, family-focused, comprehensive services” to families in the child welfare system. And they’re working with the Healthy Families program to try to address challenges with pregnant women and newborns.

“A lot is going on in the child welfare system to this, but much like the rest of the nation, it is a challenge,” Guerrier said.

Johnson said the state needs to pay for more crisis-stabilization beds for pregnant women and mothers.

Hospitals may release infants to addicted mothers without plans in place for close oversight. And the system is overloaded, with waitlists for services, the child welfare advocates said Wednesday.

John Bryant, assistant secretary of mental health and substance abuse at DCF, said he expects waitlists to grow as the drug- abuse epidemic continues to mushroom.

He also predicted that the number of deaths caused by opioids will continue to climb, as will diseases associated with drug use, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

The state is implementing medication-assisted treatment programs that rely on drugs like methadone and suboxone to wean addicts off prescription opioids or street drugs. The medication is paired with other types of treatment, including counseling.

But the state’s history in helping addicts kick drug addictions hasn’t been great, Bryant conceded when questioned by members of the panel.

“It tells us that recovery from opioid addiction is tough. It’s very difficult,” he said. “You’ve got to have the right strategies in place … and before now we were not using medication-assisted treatment as a treatment option for these folks.

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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13 Responses for “Florida’s Opioid Crisis: Thousands of Babies Born to Addicts or Removed From Users’ Homes”

  1. Really says:

    Stop making opioids to be handed out like candy at Halloween

  2. Tired says:

    I’d like to know why I can go online and purchase fentanyl from China and have it shipped to my home within a week. This drug is 50-100 times ( potentially even more) more potent than morphine. I can’t purchase my regular medications online without a prescription, so why is this not regulated. We have a serious issue in this country, this state, this city. Every day they wait to enact stricter regulations we lose more people, friends, family, loved ones. This is real news, true concern, I don’t give a darn what kind of shoes Melanie Trump wears!

  3. just saying says:

    A relative told me that she was trying to get pregnant. I asked her how she could raise a baby when she and her husband could not support themselves. She said that would not be a problem since the state would take care of her prenatal and hospital. She was right, Florida’s “compassionate” policies encouraged this pregnancy and the subsequent birth of a baby born addicted.

  4. Beasy1230 says:

    Make rehabs and other options to get away from it more available!! If your not court ordered it’s so hard to find something.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Maybe law enforcement should step up their game. Instead they worry about running around like keystone cops worrying about the petty shit and giving people a record for a little of nothing. They like the easy stuff. There is no way this problem can be this bad and law enforcement not see or know….they need to explain whey they aren’t doing more. I hear people all the time talk about drugs and who’s on them and all and if we non users know, you know law enforcement knows way more than I—-and they are doing very little about it.

  6. knightwatch says:

    This is a national crisis. We need to treat it with the same intensity we did for typhoid, polio and, eventually, AIDS.

  7. Dave says:

    Stop arresting low level addicts and boasting that you caught some big time drug dealer, the drug dealers are the educated rich doctors not the tattoo neck scuzz buckets, please stop putting these people in jails that are run like businesses and put them in rehabilitation centers that bring families together

  8. Anonymous says:

    There’s a problem with law enforcement nationwide. In Chicago and Detroit they don’t even show up till the dust is settled. Make patients go on site to get medication administered or give them a pump and all these pills won’t be floating around to get in the wrong hands. Nothing has been being done for years….just more pills dispensed and cops afraid. Cops need to be as tough as our military!!! Time to man up or find another job. We don’t feel safe in this country and only law enforcement can do anything about that.

  9. Anonymous says:

    If something is done and done quick there are going to be more babies than people can care for or find care for….there are going to be orphanages everywhere! It is so sad that our law enforcement and government leaders let this problem get so out of hand.

  10. MannyHM says:

    Each county should have a Methadone Maintenance Clinic, a time tested effective treatment for opiate addiction. In the U.K. and some other countries, on those rare cases who fail Methadone, they are given Diamorphine (called Heroin here in the U.S.).

  11. Sherry says:

    Where is the American Medical Association and Hippocratic Oath in all of this? Meanwhile the (twisted, useless, ridiculous) political focus is on:

    1. Stopping Birth Control
    2. Deregulating Everything
    3. Treating Addicts as “Criminals”
    4. Reducing Funding for Rehabilitation Centers/mental institutions
    5. Stripping “Public Education” Funding
    6. Stopping Sex Education (just cross your legs)
    7. Hands off when it comes to corruption in the medical industry and “Big Pharma”

    Yep. . . . just follow the money!

  12. Pogo says:

    @Followed the money (and bodies and tears) to the usual Republican suspects

    Sackler family….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..32.1.663….0.0rzgD47rDYA

    From a Drudge regular:

    “…The Sackler family has amassed a multi-billion dollar fortune through Purdue Pharma – the drug manufacturer widely accused of helping launch the opioid epidemic – but a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found no evidence the family is using their vast personal wealth to help victims fight their addiction.

    Generous donations have allowed the family name to appear prominently at numerous prestigious art galleries and medical research institutions, but a month-long DCNF review did not turn up a single addiction treatment center named “Sackler,” nor any that had received contributions from the billionaire clan.

    OxyContin – a breakthrough opioid-based painkiller and Purdue’s largest revenue source – generated about $35 billion in sales from between 1995 and 2015, according to Forbes. The drug is widely considered a crucial player in sparking the opioid epidemic and made the Sacklers the 19th-richest family in 2016 America, with a $13 billion net worth…”

    American Cartel: Billionaire Family Behind OxyContin Apparently Spends ZILCH Rehabbing Addicts
    Photo of Ethan Barton

    Ethan Barton
    Investigative Reporter

  13. Janet Colbert STOPPNow says:

    We must have legislation for fewer pills. Limited opiate prescribing will help curb new addictions. Usage of the PDMP must also be mandated. I have been trying to get our legislators to implement laws since 2010. Our legislators have ignored the opiate epidemic. Get involved.

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