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Meth Series Story 2

In this segment of KSMU's series on methamphetamine, Michele Skalicky reports on how meth affects children.

sound of hospital equipment and babies crying

The innocent victims of methamphetamine are children--those who live in homes where meth is being manufactured and used and those who are yet to be born...

On a recent visit to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. John's a 2-day-old baby lay in his isolet, his future uncertain.

He was born to a mom who tested positive for meth.

This woman, who had a history of meth use, had already given up rights to 3 other children. Hospital officials expected her to relinquish rights to this baby as well. If the baby tested positive for meth, she might face criminal charges.

This baby had no interest at all in eating, which is common for babies who are exposed to meth in utero. They don't learn to suck and swallow like most babies do. He was on IV fluids and would soon have a tube put into his stomach for feeding

Dr. Edward Stevens, neonatologist at St. John's, sees babies like this one all too often. He estimates they get about 12 meth babies a year

Exposure to meth in utero can lead to a number of problems for the baby. Besides difficulty learning to eat, they can be very fussy and irritable and they often have a low birth weight due to lack of adequate nutrition. According to Dr. Stevens, babies whose mothers use meth during pregnancy have similar drug levels as their moms. That can lead to hypertension episodes, which can cause other problems

Meth use during pregnancy can have a lasting impact in a child's life. Stevens says, as the babies grow, they can have social mal-adjustment issues, Attention Deficit Disorder and hyperactivity disorder. They can also have sensory integration issues

But Dr. Stevens says many of these problems can be addressed if the children are placed into positive environments

The number of babies born at St. John's that test positive for meth has gone up in recent years.

Ten years ago, when Dr. Stevens came to St. John's he saw only a few sporadic cases a year. In the last 3 years, he says the number of babies who test positive for meth has increased dramatically.

St. John's pediatrician Dr. John Burson has seen mixed data about whether or not putting pseudoephedrine behind the counter has helped reduce the number of babies who test positive for meth

It's not just babies whose moms use during pregnancy that suffer, it's also kids who live in homes where meth is being used and manufactured.

Burson has treated children who have been exposed to the toxic chemicals used in meth production. But he says, fortunately, none of them had any serious problems

Burson sits on the Child Fatality Review Board. He says there haven't been any child deaths in the city due to meth manufacturing, but meth use led to an accidental death

Dr. Edward Stevens isn't sure what the solution to protecting kids from meth is. But education, he says, can help. That includes educating pregnant women who use drugs, their spouses, extended family members and the community

Dr. John Burson has worked with the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, Cox and St. John's physicians and the prosecutor's office to create a brochure to educate women who use meth who become pregnant. They've made it available to obstetricians all over the area

While Burson is optimistic the brochures will reach some moms, he admits their fight isn't going to be easy. He says meth is an incredibly addictive and cheap drug, and it's going to be an uphill battle to fight it

Dr. Ed Stevens agrees. He says sometimes they see positive outcomes—women who are willing to go thru rehab and do whatever it takes to keep their children. But some women, like the one who recently gave birth at St. John's, have different priorities

For KSMU news, I'm Michele Skalicky