GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – 400 babies are born drug dependent in South Carolina every year. And, a doctor at Greenville Memorial is now expanding a treatment to help reduce symptoms those babies might experience.
Dr. Jennifer Hudson has been using the Managing Abstinence in Newborns, or MAiN, program at Greenville memorial for almost a decade. With the treatment, babies start getting a low dose of methadone or suboxone within 24 hours of being born. In the old process, doctors would wait until the baby is experiencing full withdrawal.
“Their experience is much less dramatic, much less suffering,” said Dr. Jennifer Hudson, the Medical Director for Newborn Services at Greenville Memorial.
Every year, the hospital treats about 40 babies through the program and another 100 babies born exposed to other substances.
“We need to treat them how we would treat an adult,” Dr. Hudson said. “We would never ask an adult to quit methadone cold turkey and suffer through withdrawal…Why are we asking newborns to quit cold turkey and suffer.”
However, Dr. Hudson says they’re only able to treat babies exposed to long-acting opioids with this method since usage with other drugs can vary.
“Methodone is every day a known dose, and most mothers have a constant blood level that reaches the baby,” Dr. Hudson said.
One of Dr. Hudson’s patients is Jennifer Warren. The mother of two spent two years addicted to meth and heroin before she entered Serenity Place, a treatment center for mothers.
Warren says when she found out she was pregnant she tried to quit cold turkey, but with no support system, that didn’t last long. And, if a mother does that, it can cause serious harm to the baby, even resulting in a miscarriage.
“It’s hard being pregnant and knowing that your child may or may not suffer because of something you did, some decisions that you made,” Warren said.
So, Warren had to be put on a controlled dosage of the drug throughout the pregnancy, so her baby could properly be weened off once she was born.
“That was a really really really difficult decision whether to start her on the medication or not,” Warren says.
She and her baby stayed in the hospital for a week, both weening off the drugs. Dr. Hudson and the hospital staff worked with Warren to make sure she was prepared to handle the weening process once she returned to Serenity Place.
“By the time I went home, I feel like I was mentally prepared to handle it,” Warren said.
The hospital partners with social workers who visit the mother and baby after they return home. They also will not send a baby home with a mother who has recently relapsed or is not in a treatment program.
“We make sure when we send the baby home that the baby is going home with an appropriate caregiver,” Dr. Hudson said.
Warren says she gave her baby the medication for another week before she was completely weened off of it.
“She had light tremors,” Warren said. “It kind of messed up her feeding a little bit.”
Her baby’s symptoms were much more mild than baby’s who don’t go through the immediate treatment.
“Babies in very bad withdrawl can have vomitting, diahrea, a very bad diaper rash, siezures…It can be very serious and life threatening when allowed to progress to full withdrawal,” Dr. Hudson said.
Babies who go through the MAiN program usually stay in the hospital a shorter amount of time. Babies who have to be treated in the NICU for withdrawal may have to stay in the hospital anywhere from three weeks to three months.
Greenville Memorial says average charges for drug dependent infants in the MAiN program at the hospital were under $11,000 compared to an average of $45,000 for traditional-care of drug dependent infants statewide and almost $60,000 for those infants nationwide.
The program also helps reduce the stress on a new mother which can reduce relapses.
“If you have a child that’s crying and not able to be soothed, that just increases your stress, and increased stress means you gotta figure out a way to deal with it,” said Kimbley Smith, the Serenity Village Director.
The program will be expanding to 10 hospitals across the state this year. The announcement about the first four hospitals will be Wednesday. four other hospitals across the state this month.