Source: Laura Ungar / USA Today
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – More than half the babies in University Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit one day this month were suffering from drug withdrawal — one sucking licorice-flavored morphine to ease his tremors and near-constant crying, another so sensitive to light and sound that he slept in a dark isolation room.
They are the tiniest victims of Kentucky’s prescription pill epidemic, and their numbers are soaring.
Kentucky has seen its hospitalizations for addicted newborns climb from 29 in 2000 to 730 last year. The state’s 2,400% increase dwarfs by comparison a disturbing national rise of 330% found in a study that examined hospitalizations from 2000 to 2009.
The skyrocketing numbers reflect the enormity of Kentucky’s prescription drug abuse problem, which is among the nation’s worst. It kills about 1,000 Kentuckians a year and wrecks thousands more lives in a state plagued by doctor shortages, high levels of chronic pain and illness, and too little drug abuse treatment.
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