Infants who Test Positive for Drugs Increases

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Each of the three counties served by South Central Ohio Job & Family Services has seen an increase in the number of infants who tested positive for drugs at birth.

Since 2011, Hocking, Ross and Vinton counties have seen increases each year.

In Hocking County, 12 infants born to mothers living here tested positive in 2013, compared to seven in 2012 and six in 2011. In Ross County, 55 infants tested positive in 2013, compared to 49 in 2012 and 27 in 2011.

In Vinton County, 24 tested positive in 2013, compared to 20 in 2012 and 14 in 2011.

The drug problem is so widespread that eight infants who tested positive for drugs at birth were reportedly in one area hospital at the same time last week, according to Helen Lehman, administrator of South Central Ohio Job & Family Services.

She declined to name the hospital for privacy reasons.

“About half of the babies were extremely quiet and the other half were screaming,” Lehman said of the eight infants.

“We don’t know how these babies will develop. We just don’t know how it’s going to affect them.”

Lehman added that one baby currently in custody from the three-county region she serves tested positive at birth and is now 1 year old but can’t walk or sit up and is showing signs of muscle problems.

“It boggles my mind. This epidemic is a monster and we as a society need to do more,” she pointed out.

“My workers have seen some of the moms, (and) I think this is how bad the drug issue is — the moms appear to more concerned about getting out of the hospital to get their fix.”

Lehman believes more should be done to help pregnant mothers treat their addictions because some of them don’t have the ability to help themselves.

Addictions are so powerful in some instances, she said, that mothers don’t have any ability to care for their baby.

Lehman described a system of services that was designed to be intertwined but is still disconnected in some instances.

“Sometimes when these babies are born and born positive, there’s no charges on the mom that I’m aware of,” she said.

If a mother who is pregnant with her second child goes to the emergency room seeking maternity care, and hospital staff see signs of drug addiction, they can contact children services.

That’s not the case if the mother is pregnant with her first child, though, according to Lehman.

“The hospital will not call us because of confidentiality unless they have a child at home,” she said.

“In the developmental states, we can’t.

If there’s no other children, we wouldn’t have a reason to report it to children services,” explained Hocking Valley Community Hospital Emergency Room Director Stacey Gabriel.

HVCH Director of Social Services Melissa Poling said she always notifies children services whenever she’s alerted to a possible problem.

“I can say the situation and they can give me some guidance.

They can give me a referral and have me involved if they do test positive with any kinds of drugs in their system.

We can make a report to children services,” she said.

“There’s not a lot children services will do if the baby is still in the womb,” she continued.

“I usually do just call because every situation is different and I don’t necessarily have to run and get guidance through children services, but there’s so many gray areas. It’s never just black and white.”

Earlier this week, the Ohio House approved a bill requiring hospital maternity units and newborn care nurseries to report the number of babies born addicted to drugs.

The reporting to the state Health Department, mandated for every three months, is one of several bills aimed at reducing the state’s prescription painkiller addiction epidemic.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon in northwest Ohio, would not include information that could identify the child.

Wachtmann says tracking the number of drug-addicted babies will help the state monitor Ohio’s progress fighting drug addiction.

The measure, approved unanimously on Wednesday, has headed to the Senate.

Overdose drug deaths, many of them from painkillers and heroin, have been the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, surpassing car crashes, since 2007.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.