- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Doctors say a rise in heroin use among pregnant mothers in Kentucky is causing the number of hospitalizations for drug-dependent newborns to skyrocket.

The number of hospitalizations for drug-dependent newborns in the state rose 48 percent last year, compared to 2013, The Courier-Journal (http://cjky.it/1e77fBc) reports. Those 1,409 hospitalizations last year represent a 50-fold increase from just 28 hospitalizations in 2000.

“The seemingly never-ending increase every year is so frustrating to see,” said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “It’s a horrible thing to spend the first days of your life in agony.”

According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, admissions of drug-dependent babies to U.S. hospitals nearly quadrupled from 2004 through 2013.

The surge is a result of a recent national opioid abuse crisis, said Dr. Veeral Tolia, a Texas doctor and lead author of the journal article.

Some doctors say growing awareness of the problem - known technically as neonatal abstinence syndrome - pushes up the numbers, although others argue this is a small factor if it contributes at all.

Researchers say more pregnant women are being prescribed painkillers, which both raises the risk of having a drug-dependent baby and can sometimes lead to abuse and addiction.

Area doctors said they’re now starting to see more pregnant mothers turning to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get after government crackdowns on prescription drug abuse.

“Heroin is definitely on its way back,” said Dr. Lori Devlin-Phinney, a neonatologist with University of Louisville Physicians. “(At University of Louisville Hospital) it’s the No. 1 drug that moms are taking.”

Despite rising opioid abuse, doctors said drug treatment for pregnant women is sorely lacking. In Kentucky, only 71 of 286 facilities listed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offer services to pregnant women. All but 10 are outpatient facilities.

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Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com

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