NORTHEAST TENNESSEE (WJHL)- According to numbers from the state, for the first time in years, the number of drug-dependent babies born in Tennessee has not significantly increased.
For years, this problem has hit right here in Northeast Tennessee.
The rate of babies born harmed by drug use in our area is four times higher than the state average.
According to the state, so far this year 832 Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS cases have been reported in Tennessee, 194 of those come from our area.
These numbers, though still high haven’t gone up significantly since last year, and in light of previous years that’s a step in the right direction.
Over the past decade, the state says there’s been a nearly ten-fold rise in the incidences of babies born with NAS in Tennessee, but now things could be changing.
At places like Families Free in Johnson city, mothers of babies born dependent on drugs can get treatment for free, thanks in part to more state funding over the last couple of years.
“We are seeing some really strong gains when women are effectively engaged in good treatment, I am not surprised if the numbers do begin to decrease.” Families Free Executive Director Lisa Tipton said.
Tipton said since February of 2014, this non-profit has helped over 40 women who delivered a baby diagnosed with NAS.
“I think we can be very encouraged by the work that’s being done, a lot of competent, passionate, informed individuals are working very hard on this problem,” Dr. Cynthia Thomas with the Northeast Regional Health Office said.
She said after seeing the dramatic increase over the years especially in Northeast Tennessee, combating this tragic problem has become a high priority.
“We have a tremendous number of prevention efforts at the state, regional, and local level which we feel are having a significant impact,” Thomas said.
“The State of Tennessee has been very visionary in providing a variety of possible solutions to this problem, this is a very complex problem and in our area it’s compounded by poverty, its compounded by trauma, and it’s compounded by a lot of attitudes in our culture that make it difficult for women to reach out for help,” Tipton said.
And though there hasn’t been a decrease yet, “It is reassuring that we have not seen the rate go up like we did from 2013 to 2014 but it’s really too early to say what the trend will be going forward,” Thomas said. “We are hopeful that with a stabilized rate that we will go on to see decreases.”
Another factor some, including Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus, say could have contributed to this is a new law.
As of last year, a mother can be charged with a misdemeanor if she illegally uses narcotics during pregnancy, and the baby is harmed as a result.
Women charged have the option to get into treatment to potentially avoid jail time.
Staubus said he plans to advocate for legislation next session that would expand that law.
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