Each year, more babies in Maine are born addicted to drugs than almost any other state. Until last year, when the number dropped from 1,024 to 953 babies, it had gone up every year for a decade.
The increase in drug-addicted babies in Maine corresponds to a spike in opioid addictions and a rising number of children going into foster care in the state. Though studies have not directly linked those trends, people who work with drug-addicted mothers believe they are related.
In 2016, 301 people in Maine died of opioid-related overdoses, putting the state’s rate of opioid deaths per 100,000 people at 25.2, almost double the national average. Maine implemented a law that summer to limit opioid prescriptions in the state, but last year the number of overdose deaths still rose.
Meanwhile, the rate of pregnant women addicted to opioids quadrupled across the country from 1999 to 2014. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted prenatal opioid exposure increases the risk of “preterm labor, stillbirth, neonatal abstinence syndrome, and maternal mortality.” Eight percent of babies born in Maine in 2017 had some degree of neonatal abstinence syndrome or drug addiction.
In opioid-addicted mothers, “the changes in the brain are so intense that even that maternal instinct, the desire to protect your baby, isn’t enough for most women to make them quit,” Edward Bilotti, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction, told Pine Tree Watch.
From 2012 to 2016, the number of children entering the foster care system in Maine increased by 45 percent, a trend many associate with the spike in opioid-addicted parents and babies.
Doctors do not have sufficient data to say how exposure to opioids affects babies as they grow up. But in hospitals, infants experiencing withdrawal often have tremors, seizures, and diarrhea. They cannot sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, and they cry until they are hoarse.
“It’s an epidemic,” pediatrician Gabrielle Harpell of MaineGeneral hospital told Pine Tree Watch. “They’re very needy. We do everything we can to get them comfortable.” —C.C.