Social worker’s perspective on drug-addicted babies

The number of drug-addicted babies being born in the Upper Peninsula is on the rise. ABC 10 News Now senior reporter Mike Hoey is looking at several different vantage points on the issue this week. Tonight, a social worker weighs in.

Sixty-seven drug-addicted babies were born at Marquette General Hospital in 2012, and their health care needs extend well beyond those of most newborns.

Shannon Harrington is a social worker in the MGH neonatal intensive care unit. Once she’s informed of a drug-addicted baby in the NICU, the first thing she does is file a referral to the Children’s Protective Services program, a division of the Michigan Department of Human Services.

“After you phone that in, usually within 24 hours you can expect someone from CPS to come and see the baby,” she said. “Following that, they usually contact the parents, if the parents aren’t in the NICU with the baby. From there, we usually just follow CPS’s lead.”

Harrington says she has meetings with Children’s Protective Services and with the parents so that they know what to expect. The direction CPS chooses to take often depends on whether or not the baby needs methadone treatment for withdrawal.

“There can be a quite lengthy wean from that methadone,” Harrington said. “Needless to say, we can’t send a mom home who’s been abusing drugs, we can’t send her home administering methadone to the baby, so in a lot of our counties in the U.P., we’ve been able to pull in a home health nurse to help with that.”

The medical director of the NICU says they’re not trying to shame women who give birth to drug–exposed babies. They just want to make women more aware of the issue and to encourage them to get the help that they and their kids need.

“These mothers are not in any way to be judged, stigmatized, or they’re not to feel bad or uncomfortable about seeking medical care for their addiction and prenatal care,” Dr. Julia Frei said.

The legal system is involved with the issue of drug-addicted infants as well, and on Friday night, I’ll have a look at how it’s involved.