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Kentucky has twice the U.S. rate of babies born drug-dependent


Kentucky had more than twice the national rate of drug-dependent babies in 2013, according to research published in a medical journal.

A recent research letter in JAMA Pediatrics says Kentucky’s rate was 15.1 cases per 1,000 live births when the U.S. rate was 7.3 in 2013, the most recent comparable year, The Courier Journal of Louisville reported.

Both were up substantially from five years earlier, and Kentucky’s rate jumped another 40 percent the following year.

“We have mothers who are addicted throughout pregnancy and their addiction is more or less passed down to their babies,” said Joshua Brown of the Institute for Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy at the University of Kentucky, one of the authors of the research. “The trend just keeps going up and up and up.”

In 2012, The Courier- Journal reported on a 2,400 percent, 11-year rise in Kentucky hospitalizations for drug-dependent newborns. And the numbers have con- tinued to skyrocket, with 1,234 drug-dependent infants reported to the state health department in the year ending July 30, 2015.

“We’ve had one of the country’s worst prescription drug problems,” which has spawned a burgeoning heroin epidemic, said researcher Jeffrey Talbert, who directs the pharmaceutical institute. “We need more treatment providers and more access to care.”

A Courier-Journal analysis of U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration data shows only 30 of the 123 substance abuse treatment facilities in Kentucky accept pregnant or post-partum women. Only eight are long-term residential programs.

Amy Kalber landed a coveted treatment spot shortly after her son Jordan’s birth in 2011 and spent nine months getting clean through a Volunteers of America program for pregnant and postpartum addicts called Grace House.

She said that’s what saved her and her family.

At University of Louisville Hospital, Kalber tested positive for drugs. And when Jordan was born at 11:30 that night, the nurses and doctors only let her hold him for a few minutes. Withdrawal from heroin was Jordan Barkley’s first experience of the world.

An emergency custody hearing was held at the hospital, and Jordan was assigned to a foster family. Kalber took a few trash bags of clothes — all her belongings — and went to The Healing Place to detox. But before going in, she sat in the parking lot and “just drank and drank.”

Exhausted after the detox program, Kalber made a desperate call to Volunteers of America, telling them: “My son needs help. I need help.” VOA’s program often has a waiting list 20 to more than 30 names long, but luckily it had a bed.

“It was like a home” that also offered recovery meetings, parenting classes and relapse prevention, she said. “It was so clean and safe and I slept in a clean bed.”

Researchers and experts say the only real way to bring down the numbers of drug-dependent babies — aside from reducing Kentucky’s overall drug problem — is to provide more care for moms like Kalber.

“Let’s get people drug treatment,” said Jefferson Family Court Chief Judge Paula Sherlock. “We may need to get them help with housing as well.”

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