Drug-addicted babies & the legal system

In the last few years, drug-addicted babies have become a serious public health concern both in the Upper Peninsula and nationally. ABC 10 News Now senior reporter Mike Hoey is examining the issue this week from several different vantage points. In the final installment of his series, a county prosecutor shares his view.

Five years ago or so, Marquette County parental abuse or neglect cases involving drug-addicted babies were a once-a-year occurrence. County Prosecutor Matt Wiese says there was a spike in the number of cases about three years ago. The numbers have plateaued since then, but at a higher level than before.

Once a drug-addicted child is born, Wiese’s office will file a Probate Court petition to get jurisdiction over the family. The petition allows his office to make sure the baby and the mother receive the help that they need.

“We can’t criminally prosecute for delivery of drugs to a fetus under law,” Wiese said. “So, once the child is born, if the mother who’s addicted to drugs is working a program, we will oversee or monitor cases where services are being offered, and as long as the mother is compliant and as long as the child is doing well, we don’t try to terminate the (parental) rights of that mother.”

Wiese’s wife is an adoption worker, and she’s worked with some drug-addicted babies. He says his wife’s perspective has helped him figure out how he should address the issue.

“You have a child who has a lot of needs, and putting that mother who has a drug addiction problem together with a child who has greater needs because that child was affected by the drugs, it’s just a really bad combination,” Wiese said. “Whatever we can do to keep the child safe, to help the mother recover, that’s the idea.”

The Marquette General neonatal intensive care unit shares this idea of a treatment approach rather than a punitive approach. The medical director says it’s very common for drug-addicted mothers to fail to keep up with doctor’s appointments during pregnancy out of shame.

“We don’t want that to happen, because it’s important that these mothers have regular prenatal care,” Dr. Julia Frei said. “Some mothers have late or no prenatal care, and that’s not good for the baby and it’s not good for the mother.”

Drug-addicted babies and mothers can live healthy lives, and many people in the U.P. are willing and able to help.