Whitesburg KY

‘Stop the madness’

“They are just agitated. They are screaming. Their faces — you have the grimace. They’re in pain … Sometimes the babies have seizures.”

This is a nurse describing what infants look and act like when they are born addicted to drugs.

They are the newest and youngest victims of Kentucky’s prescription pill epidemic and the number of such infants is growing at an alarming rate, according to a report by Laura Ungar in the Courier- Journal.

Prescription pill abuse is a scourge that kills nearly 1,000 people a year in this state. Now we learn 730 Kentucky infants were hospitalized last year addicted to drugs, compared to 29 such cases in 2000, and officials blame prescription pill abuse for the skyrocketing numbers.

Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, describing it as a “silent epidemic,” is sounding the alarm.

“Stop the madness,” she said. “This is too much.”

Haynes is absolutely correct. But it will take much more than rhetoric to address the deep roots of a problem that has been growing for more than a decade as the state has continued to starve its mental health and substance abuse services and slashed funding for other important social services that help steer people out of drug and alcohol abuse. …

Clearly the way to stop infants from being born addicted to drugs is stop pregnant women from drug abuse and addiction. But Kentucky offers only limited services (both public and private) and is poorly equipped to deal with the demand …

Yet services remain scarce in Kentucky.

The state currently has 36 licensed or certified centers that serve pregnant or postpartum women, but advocates say that’s not nearly enough. …

Kentucky must devise a comprehensive plan to reach much further into the state’s addiction problem, before young people become dependent on drugs and alcohol.

Mental health and drug and alcohol abuse are intertwined. Yet the state’s system of community mental health centers — the front line in treating mental illness and addiction — has scraped by for more than a decade with no increase in state funds and soaring demand for services. …

Haynes said she is trying to pull together public health and other officials to address this problem in a major way. We hope she and others involved appreciate the urgency and come up with a comprehensive plan to attack the problem that is now threatening the lives of the state’s youngest citizens.

— The Courier-Journal, Louisville

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