- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said increasing numbers of children are becoming innocent victims of drug abuse.

He said authorities are arresting more people on chemical endangerment of a child charges, including mothers who give birth to babies with drug dependencies.

“It’s not some of the most common charges we see, but we are seeing more … than we need to,” Rushing said. “The scary thing is the long-term effects that this could have on these children.

“And these children are innocent; they didn’t ask to be born with a chemical dependency.”

The state is seeing an increase in the number of neonatal abstinence syndrome cases, Alabama State Health Officer Don Williamson said in a recent report.

Called NAS, the syndrome is a condition in which a newborn presents symptoms of withdrawal after being exposed to drugs in the womb.

During 2010-13 in Alabama, 1,001 babies were born with NAS, the Alabama Medicaid Agency report said. In 2013 there were 345 NAS cases in Alabama, up from 170 in 2010.

“What we are trying to do is work with policymakers to see if we can get the mothers in treatment in the early stages of pregnancy,” said Kesha Kennedy, clinical director at Aletheia House, a substance-abuse treatment and prevention program based in Birmingham. “That way, we can work to get the mothers off drugs, which will help ease up the problems the children will face once they are born.”

She said any child born with a chemical dependency has to be “weaned off” the drug just like an adult. “(The babies) have to be medically induced to get them off the drugs they are addicted to.”

Dr. Karen Landers, health officer for Area 1, which covers Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties, said the big concern is babies could be born prematurely or have long-lasting effects from the drugs.

“There’s danger to the child after it’s born, after it is coming off these drugs,” said Landers, a pediatrician. “(The baby) has had nine months to be exposed to these drugs, and that can and does present potential dangers for the child.”

Williamson said newborns with NAS can suffer from hyperactivity, failure to thrive, seizures, tremors, rapid breathing and excessive yawning.

Landers said education and providing women with resources to help their babies be healthy is a step in trying to correct the situation.

“The key is getting to the mother as quickly as possible, getting her help, which will in turn help her child during pregnancy and when it’s born,” Kennedy said.

Law enforcement officials in Colbert and Lauderdale counties said they, too, are seeing their share of babies being born chemically dependent.

“Our philosophy is we try to get the mother in some type of drug rehab program so (she) can be a mother to the child,” Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly said. “We have had success with that.”

Colbert County has prosecuted one case of chemical endangerment of a child that involved the death of a newborn.

The mother, Amanda Kimbrough, plead guilty to chemical endangerment of a child that resulted in death and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in December 2009.

Authorities said Kimbrough admitted to using methamphetamine while she was pregnant. Her baby was born premature. He died 19 minutes after birth.

“That’s the only death of that kind we have had, but we are seeing an increase in the number of cases,” Colbert County Assistant District Attorney Angela Hulsey said. “I don’t know if it is a drastic increase, but we see more than we want.”

Lauderdale County has a pending case against a Florence woman whose son was stillborn May 27, 2012. An autopsy indicated the child had methamphetamine and Valium in his system.

“In a case involving the death of a child, the mother needs to be held accountable,” Connolly said. Landers said the region may not have as many cases as other places, but “we are not immune to this.”

“It’s a growing problem (in) some areas in the state more than others,” she said.

“It’s awful what these children are having to deal with, the withdrawals, the long-lasting effects such as physical and health issues,” Kennedy said.

“It’s not fair to these innocent children,” Rushing said. “It’s a problem that we need to try and get a handle on before it gets even worse.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/


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