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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A problem is hurting Kentuckiana's most vulnerable. Several babies have been born to mothers who are addicted to heroin.
"It was more powerful than the love I had for my child and no matter how much I wanted to stop how much I knew it was a necessity I couldn't," explained Melissa, a recovering heroin addict.
Melissa's daughter Scarlett was born exposed to heroin. Melissa, is receiving treatment at The Healing Place, a drug addiction recovery center. Scarlett was born with a perforated valve in her heart. She's been placed with a foster family while Melissa seeks treatment.
"Heroin was easier to get, cheaper so that's what I've started using. I won't know until she's older how she was affected by the drug use," Melissa said.
"They're very irritable. They can have a very high pitched uncontrollable cry that you cannot console them," said Pauline Hayes, NICU Clinical Nurse Manager at U of L's Center for Women and Infants. She says the number of babies born exposed to heroin triple in just the past year.
"Heroin is certainly bad because it's unregulated. You don't what you're getting," said Hayes.
Doctors use morphine to wean babies off heroin, or any opiate. The average treatment time in the NICU is 26 to 28 days.
Lindsay Allen asked, "If she were and you find out this woman's been using heroin or whatever you could then treat it while mom is still in pregnancy?"
Hayes says it's possible to treat expectant mothers who have problems with addiction. "That's the best way to do this is to find out what's going on early and to get this mom into treatment," Hayes said.
Hayes is part of a panel whose task is making recommendations on how to combat what has become a statewide epidemic. The panel is pushing for a bill in the legislature that would require mothers to undergo universal drug testing during pregnancy and upon admission to the hospital.
"I just want to be there all the time as she progresses and learns new things and just love her," Melissa said.
"Nobody sets out in the morning to be an addict. They don't go, I think I'll take heroin today. It doesn't happen that way. It's a disease. We're still not quite seeing it that way. We're still seeing it as some kind of failure," said Hayes.
Treating babies affected by heroin use is estimated to cost about $60,000 per patient.