January 19, 1996 in Nation/World

High Rate Of Drug Babies 8 Out Of 100 Newborns Tested In Spokane Had Been Exposed To Drugs Before Birth

By The Spokesman-Review

Far more pregnant women use illicit drugs in Spokane than in most cities of similar size, suggests a study of newborns at the county’s major hospitals.

Eight out of every 100 babies tested last year had been exposed to opiates, cocaine or marijuana in the four months before birth.

And the problem almost certainly is worse than statistics reveal. Babies weren’t tested for methamphetamine, the city’s hottest drug.

Many of the drug-using moms had insurance and got routine prenatal care.

But most denied they had used drugs, so they didn’t get help to quit and their babies got little care while facing drug withdrawals after birth.

The consequences reach far beyond delivery rooms, said Ann Seaburg, neonatal manager at Deaconess Medical Center. “It’s very costly, and (the babies) have poor outcomes. It’s not just the hospitals that are affected. It affects the whole community, education, the police.”

Babies born to drug-using moms are at higher risk of doing poorly in school and developing medical problems.

The study, conducted from January through mid-March last year, tested the first stools of babies born at Deaconess, Sacred Heart Medical Center, Holy Family Hospital and Valley Hospital and Medical Center.

Sixty-four of 820 samples tested positive. Seven mothers had used more than one drug. Thirty-three had used opiates, 33 had used marijuana and five had used cocaine.

Of those who used drugs, 88 percent are white and none is black. The rest include Hispanics, Native Americans and other minorities.

Most were between ages 19 and 27. Seventeen didn’t finish high school, while 27 attended college.

Hospitals didn’t ask the mothers’ permission because samples were used only for statistical purposes and weren’t traced back to specific women, nurses said.

Washington State University laboratory workers analyzed the samples and computed statistics after concerned nurses convinced hospital administrators to approve the study.

“The prevailing attitude was we didn’t have that problem here,” said Maureen Shogan, a nurse specialist in the Deaconess neonatal intensive care unit. “We’re very rural. We’re not Detroit. We’re not Seattle. We’re a wholesome city.”

Nurses who work with newborns, however, suspected a serious problem all along.

They see the strung-out young women in hospital beds - and the red-faced newborns who rarely stop crying.

“To see them withdraw is very painful,” said Dawn Knight, clinical educator at Sacred Heart. “They’re irritable, jittery, inconsolable.”

Spokane’s new mothers ranked higher for drug use than mothers tested in several other cities - even those of similar size, Seaburg said. A comparison of eight cities showed a more severe problem only in Tulsa, Okla.

Spokane nurses are troubled because only 24 pregnant women told hospital officials they used drugs during pregnancy, while 64 actually did. All were asked.

The nurses hope to encourage pregnant women to be more honest for the sake of their babies’ health.

“Women who use drugs also know they’re at risk for having their babies taken away,” said Catherine Miller, a nurse midwife at Deaconess Women’s Clinic in West Central Spokane.

“We do a lot of crying here, with them and for them.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Mothers and drugs

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