These Newborn Babies Cry for Drugs, Not Milk

By 

September 7, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — His body dependent on opioids, he writhes, trembles and cries. He is exhausted but cannot sleep. He vomits, barely eats and has lost weight.

He is also a baby. Just 1 month old, he wails in the nursery of the CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital here. A volunteer “cuddler” holds him while walking around, murmuring sweetly, hour after hour, but he is inconsolable. What his body craves is heroin.

Every 15 minutes in America, a child is born after a prenatal exposure to opioids. Here in West Virginia, 14 percent of babies are born exposed to drugs, and perhaps 5 percent more to alcohol, totaling nearly one out of five newborns. Some get by without symptoms, but for many, their very first experience after birth is the torment of withdrawal.

These babies reflect the catastrophic implosion of drug policy in America, from the war on drugs that filled prisons to the continuing failure even in 2019 to provide enough treatment for drug users. By government figures, only 3.7 million Americans received treatment for substance use disorders last year, out of 21.2 million who needed it — just 17 percent.