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Class takes aim at born drug addicts

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17 Roane babies addicted at birth over last 2 years

By Damon Lawrence

The number of babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome born to Roane County mothers troubles Judge Dennis Humphrey. Earlier this summer, he started holding a class in his courtroom to bring awareness to the issue.

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“We’re hoping to reduce the number of children born that are drug exposed,” he said.

Roane County Health Department Director Laura Connor said Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, also known as NAS, is caused by mothers who abuse drugs during pregnancy.

Connor said babies go through immediate withdrawal when the umbilical cord is cut at birth.

“In Roane County alone the last two years, 17 babies have been born dependent on drugs and had this diagnosis,” Connor said.

“This year as of the end of August we’ve already had 13, and that’s with several more months left in the year.”

The NAS classes are free. The most recent one was held Friday at the Roane County Courthouse.

Attendees are both men and women. They are required to attend the class by court order.

“I’m making it a condition of drug related offenses or people who have a drug history,” Humphrey said.

According to Connor, babies who are born with NAS suffer a number of withdrawal symptoms including high pitched crying, excessive crying, difficulty sleeping, jerks, tremors, jitters, irritability, sweating, fast breathing, excessive sneezing, fever and skin problems. Other symptoms include frantic uncoordinated sucking, difficulty feeding, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. '

“If you’ve ever been through detox or withdrawal yourself or seen somebody else go through it, you know how difficult it is,” said Connor, who gave a slide presentation during the class.

“You feel like you’re absolutely going to die and that you would have to die to feel better. That’s with adult or mature coping mechanisms.”

Newborns haven’t developed those mechanisms yet.

“So it’s even a more significant impact to the baby,” Connor said.

“The drug is no longer available so the baby’s central nervous system really becomes impacted, and there are a lot of just nasty symptoms that the babies have.”

A portion of the class also focused on contraception.

“It’s completely voluntary,” Connor said about the contraception methods offered by the health department.

“Nobody is saying that you need to do this, but what we want to try and do is empower folks to make the best health decisions for themselves.”

Friday’s class lasted about 40 minutes. Participants were given a certificate at the end.

“Thank you for doing what you were required to do by court order,” Humphrey told the participants.