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Prescription Drug Abuse in Tennessee (Part 3): Our Children

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. In order to raise awareness and hopefully, to help victims, we’re partnering with the Metropolitan Drug Commission to bring you a series of articles on the issue and how it impacts us in East Tennessee. Thanks to Karen Pershing for her work with this fine organization and for her contribution to our series. Visit our blog page for Parts 1 and 2.

For the Sake of Our Children

Adults are not the only ones that are affected by prescription drug abuse in Tennessee. Prescription drug abuse is taking a massive toll – both physically and emotionally – on children in our state. When an expectant mother uses narcotics, she exposes her baby to the effects of those same drugs. For some of us, it may be easy to dismiss an adult addict as someone simply paying for their own poor choices. However, when it comes to children, suffering through no fault of their own, all of us are moved with compassion.

What is NAS?

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS, can result in birth defects, premature birth or low birth weight. It involves a painful set of withdrawal symptoms that a baby endures shortly after birth. NAS is caused by the mother’s use of narcotic drugs while pregnant. Babies who are born with NAS have to be weaned off of the drugs by administering small amounts of morphine or methadone to ease their pain.

Unfortunately, there are long-term effects of NAS as well, but doctors can only speculate on the full extent of the problem. In addition to their immediate health challenges, these children will likely be more prone to addiction, will have a higher rate of attention deficit disorders, and many will be affected by developmental delays.

The Economic Impact

In addition to the physical harm involved, we should also be alarmed at the cost of NAS. While the average cost of care for a healthy newborn is around $4,000, care for a child born with NAS typically runs over $60,000. In 2013, the Tennessee Department of Health reported 921 cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in newborns in Tennessee. That’s over $55 million in medical costs – just in one year. It is truly scary to think how our Knox County School system will be affected by the special needs and demands of this generation of children.

The Social Impact

Children are also impacted simply by growing up in the home of a parent who abuses prescription drugs. A parent who is an addict is likely not capable of providing a safe and nurturing environment for their children. Often, when a parent is not capable, the children have to be removed from their care and placed with a relative or in foster care. Since this epidemic began in Knox County, the number of children under the care of the state has skyrocketed. (Please see the Tennessee DCS website for annual reports.) Though the hard number is a moving target, with children always going in and out of care, the weekly average has grown by more than 130% – from 300 children a week to more than 700. It is impossible to estimate the impact of this trauma on each individual child.

What Can We Do?

When it comes to our children, the future of our community, no doubt we all are ready to roll up our sleeves and find a solution. But what can we do?

  1. Talk to your children about the potential dangers of prescription medication. Make sure they know not to take anything that wasn’t prescribed for them by a doctor and to take medication only as directed.
  2. Keep all medications stored in a safe place. To a child, a powerful narcotic is as dangerous as a loaded gun.
  3. Clean out your medicine cabinet regularly and safely dispose of all unused medications. Visit Knox County’s website for more information on disposal sites and collection events.  As this story from NBC points out, kitty litter is another way to neutralize harmful medicines.
  4. Last, but not least, we all have to take responsibility for creating a culture where have to have a pill for everything. Our children are watching us and will mimic what we do. Find alternative ways to manage minor discomforts and let your kids see that you don’t always have to find a solution in the medicine cabinet.
Take Control

“Scheduled” or “controlled” medications are called that because they have potentially addictive properties. We can take control of them, or they will take control of us. When used as directed, they can provide relief for many suffering pain or anxiety. However, over the counter medications or other alternatives will work for most people in most situations. Let’s do everything we can to keep our children healthy and safe. After all, they will one day be our community leaders, business owners, teachers and caregivers. Our future is at stake. We can’t afford to continue to ignore what is going on around us.

Get Help

If you are currently struggling with an addiction and want to get help, visit the GET HELP section on the Metropolitan Drug Commission’s website.

If you have lost a loved one to prescription drug addiction or overdose, or if you are caring for a child afflicted with NAS, The Lawyers of Brown & Roberto would like to hear your story, at no cost or obligation to you. Contact us today at (865) 691-2777 or use the convenient contact form below.

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