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Nearly 470 Babies Were Born Exposed to Drugs in 2016, DCYF Says



Concord Monitor
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Concord — Every 19 hours on average, a baby was born exposed to drugs last year, according to state data. 

As the opioid crisis continues to ravage New Hampshire, the Division for Children, Youth and Families has seen a surge in the number of babies born exposed to substances and the number of child maltreatment reports related to addiction.

Last year, substance abuse in a home was cited as a risk factor in more than 5,700 calls to DCYF intake — roughly one in five calls. Nearly 470 babies were born exposed to drugs last year, slightly lower than the 2015 number, but still far above the 367 cases in 2014, according to DCYF. 

“We’re really in a crisis situation,” said Marcia Sink, president of CASA of New Hampshire, which advocates for abused and neglected children during the court process. Eighty percent of the cases CASA now sees are impacted by substance abuse at some level, Sink said. 

Children born addicted can experience their own symptoms of withdrawal.

“People addicted to drugs really want to be good parents, but once the drug takes over ... where the only thing they can focus on is using the drug, neglect starts to come in,” said Linda Douglas, a trauma-informed services specialist at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

As the use of fentanyl has grown, so too has the number of drug-related deaths. The powerful painkiller was a factor in about three-quarters of the more than 434 overdose deaths last year, according to the state medical examiner’s office. 

While in the past DCYF had used safety plans to deal with substance abuse, telling parents to alternate days when they would use drugs, the agency now better understands how to deal with substance abuse, Sink said. A new law that took effect last year makes it easier for child protection workers to act on evidence that a parent is abusing opioids. 

Early action, through either services or treatment, can save the state money and resources in the future, Douglas said. Studies show the estimated lifetime cost of a child who has been non-fatally abused or neglected can average $210,000. 

“It’s just not good for kids to be in these situations,” she said. “We need to provide supports for whole family, so hopefully kids can be with someone who can provide some of that care and resilience to them that they need.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Allie Morris can be reached at 603-369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.