'I'm pregnant and I'm a heroin addict:' Cincinnati mother describes struggle to get clean

Surge of Tri-State babies born addicted to heroin

CINCINNATI – Three years ago, a 25-year-old Cincinnati woman named Jamie was pregnant with her first daughter.

She was also addicted to heroin.

"I was scared to get help,” Jamie said. “I was scared to go into a doctor's office and say, 'Hey, I’m pregnant and I’m a heroin addict.'"

Jamie, who asked for her last name to be withheld, is part of a troubling and surging group of statistics in the Tri-State involving babies born into addiction.

When women take addictive drugs like heroin during pregnancy, the baby also typically becomes addicted.

After birth, the baby goes through withdrawal. According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, symptoms of withdrawal in infants can include extreme irritability, tremors, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea and poor feeding.

This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

Between 2004 and 2011, the number of infants hospitalized in Ohio for NAS increased by 529 percent. In Kentucky, the number jumped by 308 percent, according to the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center.

State public health officials say the number of Kentucky babies treated for drug withdrawal doubled between 2011 and 2012 – from 730 to more than 1400.

According to St. Elizabeth Healthcare NKY, there were 26 babies treated for drug withdrawal in 2011 at its Edgewood, Covington, Fort Thomas, Florence and Grant County emergency rooms. In 2012, there were 63. And in 2013, that number surged to 80.

RELATED: Hamilton mother: 'Heroin was my best friend'

Babies going through opiate withdrawal also put a strain on state health care systems.

The Kentucky Department of Health reports Medicaid has seen the largest increase in NAS over the last several years.

A national study found state Medicaid programs were the main source of payment for babies with NAS, about 78.1 percent.

In Kentucky, officials say 80 percent of NAS is in Medicaid covered infants. In just the last four years, the rate of NAS among infants covered by Kentucky Medicaid has more than doubled.

In 2011, the total cost for treating Ohio infants with NAS was more than $70 million – 11 times more than in 2004.

Babies born with NAS also typically require 16.5 days in the hospital, eight times longer than a healthy newborn. This increases birthing costs from about $7,200 to $41,000, according to the US Department of Health.

But Jamie said the heavy cost on human lives and states isn’t something going through a young mother’s mind when she is addicted to heroin.

Jamie now has two young daughters -- and admits to using heroin during both pregnancies.

During her first, she said she used almost every day.

"With my first daughter, it was like I cared but I didn't,” she said. “I wasn't done using. I knew I wanted to go back out and use."

Jamie’s first daughter was born suffering from NAS.

“I didn't care,” she said. “I felt sad because here's this innocent baby that is going through withdrawal because I'm not ready to quit getting high."

But this October, when Jamie learned she was 16 weeks pregnant with her second daughter, she said something inside her changed.

Now 28 years old, the pregnancy excited her. It made her want to be healthy so her baby would be healthy.

“I don't know why, but I knew I didn't want to have another child ripped from me,” she said. “I knew I wanted to keep this child."

Jamie reached out to the Helping Opiate-addicted Pregnant women Evolve (HOPE) program at Good Samaritan Hospital 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

According to Good Samaritan’s website, the goal of the program is to have better birth outcomes and reduce preterm labor through developing personalized care plans for each patient.

"It's rewarding when you see the outcomes,” said Tosha Hill, a social worker with HOPE. “It's hard but it's rewarding." 

Hill has been with HOPE since the program’s inception in 2007. At any given time, she said she is keeping tabs on 60 pregnant drug addicts.

“If patients fall off the wagon and they continue to use, we still want them here for prenatal care,” she said. “There are certain tests they need to take. There are certain things they need to have throughout their pregnancy, so we still encourage them to come in no matter what."

Jamie said HOPE has helped her push through the struggles of recovery and learn how to be healthy.

She is currently undergoing methadone treatments in an effort to ease her withdrawal from heroin.

"Knowing that I get to keep this one and I get to do it right, it's like that second chance,” Jamie said. “I want to be a better mom.”

Her second daughter Kaylee was born April 6 at 5 pounds, 11 ounces.

Hill said Kaylee showed some symptoms of withdrawal, but did not have NAS.

"Our program worked," Hill said. "She's doing really well. They're both doing really well."

You can listen to Jamie's full interview in the video player above.

Wednesday, WCPO will take an in-depth look at a Northern Kentucky couple once in the midst of the heroin epidemic -- but now part of the solution.

For more heroin coverage, including the latest news, statistics and community resources, go to wcpo.com/heroin.

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