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Florida Sees Surge in Addicted Newborns

Despite the state's crackdown on pill mills, the number of addicted babies has risen six-fold since 2004.

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By Chrisanne Grise

07/24/12

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Florida has been cracking down hard on prescription pill mills over the last year or so, but the number of babies born with addictions is still six-times higher than it was in 2004. In 2011, more than 2,000 newborns—that's 14% of all babies born at St. Joseph's Hospital for Women in Tampa—were diagnosed with drug withdrawal syndrome, narcotic exposure, or both, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. The situation is not much better in the rest of the country, as a recent national study found that one baby is born every hour with symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Symptoms include excessive crying, itching, an inability to be consoled, diarrhea and a lack of appetite. The problem has become so extreme that a statewide Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns Task Force has been formed to fight the trend. "When we're talking about solutions and what we need to do, we need to think big," says David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families and a task force member. "The cost of what this is doing is enormous." The difficulty in tackling the problem of prescription pill addiction among pregnant women is exacerbated by the fact that many doctors legitimately prescribe painkillers to pregnant women suffering from acute pain. It can also raise a slew of moral issues, with the state of Alabama going so far as to prosecute mothers whose babies are born addicted.

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