JACKSONVILLE, Fla - Duval County ranks second in Florida for the number of babies born addicted to opioids, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said while at UF Health Jacksonville Tuesday.
Currently, at UF Health Jacksonville, there are three babies being observed or treated for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or essentially going through withdrawal.
Nelson toured the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and spoke with the doctors and nurses who treat babies born with drug addictions.
The senator’s goal was to gather information to take back to Washington in his fight for funding for the opioid epidemic. He expressed concerns Tuesday that cuts to Medicaid could negatively impact the treatment of addicted mothers and their babies.
“Of course, the state don’t have the money to do it so if you get rid of the federal Medicaid money where in the world are we gonna have the money to help these mothers and to help these addicted children?” Nelson said.
Dr. Mark Hudak, Chairman of Pediatrics at the UF College of Medicine in Jacksonville, said symptoms of addiction in babies include uncontrollable crying, difficulty breathing, and swallowing at the same time, shaking, vomiting, and diarrhea that can lead to diaper rash.
If the symptoms are severe enough to cause the baby to be unable to sleep or feed, the baby may be given morphine to replace the substance to which the baby is addicted. Staff then gradually reduce morphine as the baby recovers.
Hudak said long-term, some studies show these babies are at higher risk for abuse, mental health problems and even death before adulthood.
During a roundtable conversation Tuesday, Nelson and hospital staff discussed contraception as a means of cutting down on the number of babies born with drug addictions.
According to Hudak, 90 percent of babies born addicted to opioids are the result of unintended pregnancies.
One nurse went so far as to say she believes birth control and opioids should go hand in hand.
“I think we have to get to the problem before the patient is created through no fault of their own,” Ginny Murphy, a registered nurse, said.
“Suffering the way that they do is just really difficult to watch. It’s really difficult.”