Addiction: Babies paying price for drug epidemic

West Virginians are well aware of the evils plaguing so many of our residents because of the substance abuse epidemic, yet it seems there is always some new consequence rearing its ugly head. Last week, data from the West Virginia Health Statistics Center revealed nearly 5 percent of Mountain State babies are born addicted to drugs.

Five percent. In almost 50 out of every 1,000 live births the babies are born with neonatal abstinence syndrome — withdrawal from suddenly being cut off from the substances they received through their mothers in-utero.

To their credit, state agencies have a plan for treating those babies, and their mothers. This includes a 90-day residential treatment program called Turning Pointe for pregnant and postpartum addicts (and those who have concurrent substance abuse and mental health issues), home visiting programs from the Department of Health and Human Resources, and West Virginia Birth to Three services for kids deemed to be at significant risk of developmental delay.

But such measures are purely reactive. That they are necessary should be an even greater spur to those struggling to find ways to stop this poison in the first place. Officials must work to shut down the source of the drugs, whether they be on the street or masquerading as medicine prescribed and handed out by criminally greedy doctors and pharmacists; to clean out the distribution networks; and shore up the psyches of those so beaten down by socio-economic conditions that it actually makes sense to them to pay to poison themselves and their children.

It is an incredibly difficult yet monumentally important task. Those working on the front lines with the 5 percent of babies paying such a heavy price would likely be thrilled if accomplishing that task meant their workloads dwindled to nothing.