ADDICTED: The tiniest victims impacted by opiate use - 21 News Now, More Local News for Youngstown, Ohio -

ADDICTED: The tiniest victims impacted by opiate use

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BOARDMAN, Ohio - A cry is a sound that can set babies apart.

While some cry for food or a clean diaper, others cry out in pain and discomfort.

"The number of babies exposed to moms who are using either prescribed or illicit opiates has escalated," said Dr. Elena Rossi with Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley.

On any given day at Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley, as many as eight babies are experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.  Each year, the staff cares for between 50 and 100 babies, born to mothers who used drugs while they were pregnant, mothers like Tonii of Youngstown, who despite knowing the harm she was doing to her baby, made the realization that she was continuing to use.

"I'm not going to be able to quit, like and I am already in my first, ending my first trimester, you know what I mean, this child is growing and I still can't stop," said Tonii of Youngstown.

Unable to find a doctor to help her detox, Tonii turned to methadone treatment, but when that didn't make her feel the way she wanted, she picked up the pills again.  She says a lack of education and misinformation left her thinking her baby was okay.

"I would get screened the next day and it would come up negative for anything because I was metabolizing it so fast.   So, for me that was like okay, then it's going out of my system so it's not effecting my child.   When he was born, that was not the case," said Tonii.

Her son Billy spent nearly 40 days in the hospital.

"Watching him go through it was probably one of the most horrifying things to ever see.   You know, they go through withdrawal just like we do from opiates.   They shake.   They have loose bowels and they are truly in pain," said Tonii.

To ease their pain, the staff at Akron Children's in Boardman keep the babies in dark, quiet rooms where they are given medication and fed more often.   In most cases, social workers are involved and sometimes Children's Services steps in.

"Our patients are able to get heroin, which is very cheap, but also all of the other prescriptive drugs are very easy to get unfortunately and exposure during the pregnancy is such risk to the baby.   We need to put our babies first and we need to think about them," said Dr. Rossi.

While she can't go back and change things, Tonii knows how important it is for her to make things right for her future, putting her son and her sobriety first.

"I am amazed at his growth and, like honestly, how God has really protected him throughout this entire journey," said Tonii.

While Billy appears to be hitting all of his developmental markers, Dr. Rossi said not all babies are as lucky.

"There are birth defects that can happen as a result of maternal drug use.   So, really the message is to stay away from these drugs during pregnancy, but it doesn't stop after the babies are managed withdrawal symptoms, whether it's techniques we use or with medications, it goes on and the question is whether or not these children will have learning, intelligence issues later on in life, behavior.   We speculate that a lot of these children will have learning and behavioral problems later on in life," said Dr. Rossi.

Dr. Rossi encourages mothers who are using opiates to consult with their doctor.  Being honest can help the doctor treat a baby once it's born.  Dr. Rossi also advises mothers, who are receiving formal treatment, to continue using prescribed medication.  Quitting abruptly can cause more harm to the baby.

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