Cuddler program at Ohio hospital for drug addicted baby

BOARDMAN, OH (WKBN) – The number of babies admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit who are born addicted to drugs has nearly doubled since 2009, according to a neonatologist at Akron Children’s Hospital.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Ohio ranks in the top five states with the highest rate of drug overdose.

Dr. Linda Cooper has seen firsthand the devastating effects the opioid epidemic has on the tiniest patients. Just hours old, many babies start to show drug withdrawal symptoms.

“The babies are very fussy, very jittery. They have tremors, they shake, they cry a lot,” she said.

These babies require special care to make them comfortable while they’re slowly weaned off of morphine. This can take a few days to a few weeks.

“Neonatal abstinence syndrome refers to withdrawal from some type of opioid. So that can be heroin, that can be methadone, which is a treatment for addiction, or it can be any of the number of pain killers that are on the market.”

Cooper says about 50 percent of the babies born addicted are withdrawing from methadone because their mothers took it for treatment.

“About 40 percent are from heroin. Heroin use has actually increased in the last couple of years.”

St. Elizabeth’s and Akron Children’s in Boardman have volunteers who hold babies, called cuddlers. The program started 15 years ago to help premature babies develop but now, it’s mainly for babies born addicted to drugs.

“I would say in the last five years, the role of our cuddlers has changed dramatically. It’s almost all having to do with holding the babies with withdrawal,” Cooper said.

The average hospital stay for a healthy baby is two to three days. For a baby going through withdrawal, it can be up to 14 days before they are sent home with medication.

Cooper says the hospitals try to keep a very close follow-up and make sure the family has all of its support systems in place. Part of that follow-up process includes checkups with a pediatrician to look for any developmental issues.

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