Babies born with drug addictions face long-term effects

Babies born with drug addictions face long-term effects

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A local doctor says so many babies are born addicted in East Tennessee it's become an epidemic. Children born to mothers who abuse drugs during pregnancy deal with long-term effects.

Back in January 2007, the body of Curtis Phoenix, 27, was found inside a rundown mobile home on the outskirts of one of Knoxville's oldest neighborhoods. He was shot multiple times in the head. His live-in girlfriend Kristie Smith, 23, was convicted of first degree murder. She's not eligible for parole for 51 years. Police said drugs were at the center of this case.

Smith was sent to prison in Memphis leaving behind two little girls. Her grandmother on her dad's side was granted guardianship of the children who she says were damaged by their mother's lifestyle including drug abuse.

Smith's daughter Iyanna, now 9, hasn't seen her mother for three years. Her great grandmother Linda Estridge has been working tirelessly to provide Iyanna and her sister Ava, 7, with a normal life.

When Estridge took custody, she says she quickly found out Iyanna was suffering long-term effects of her mother's drug use during pregnancy. "When she got pregnant with Iyanna, her drug use was in the early months of pregnancy. When she found out, she stopped. But it was during those first two months that she was popping every pill, mushrooms."

Neonatologist Dr. John Buchheit said, "Long-term effects are very concerning." Dr. Buchheit says drug abuse among pregnant women in East Tennessee is at epidemic proportions. Eight to ten new babies a month born addicted are brought to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital in Knoxville. They face months of treatment to wean them off of narcotics. Dr. Buchheit said, "These babies are at increased risk for developmental delay, increased risk for learning problems when they get in school, and behavioral problems when they get to be school age."

Without even knowing Iyanna, the doctor was describing her to a "t." Estridge said, "We went through two years trying to get the right medication. She was kicked out of day cares, she was asked not to come back to Brownie scouts, uh, you know, her behavior was uncontrollable."

Iyanna's sister Ava fared a bit better. Estridge said by the time Ava was born her mother had scaled back on her drug use. Estridge said, "She is ADD but there was very minimal...maybe smoking pot, other than that, no."

Both girls are happy and healthy these days. Even though their mother will never get the chance to make things right while they're children, their great grandmother is doing all she can to give them a childhood they almost lost too soon.

If you're a woman in need of help beating drug addiction, call Child and Family Tennessee at (865) 246-1100.

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