East Tennessee task force helps pregnant women on drugs

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Several East Tennessee agencies are launching a new campaign aimed at preventing babies born dependent on drugs. It’s called Born Drug-Free Tennessee.

The East Tennessee Regional Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome task force started it as a way to raise awareness and get pregnant women who are exposed to drugs the help they need as soon as possible.

Some of the symptoms of drug-dependent babies include screaming, shaking, crying uncontrollably and trouble eating. Carla Saunders, a nurse with East Tennessee Children’s Hopsital, said it is a heartbreaking scene she sees every day.

“The babies are experiencing basically any experience an adult would during withdrawal,” Saunders said.

She says the disease is 100 percent treatable, but it will take educating parents, doctors and the community about the dangers of taking any drugs, especially opiates, while pregnant.

“The moms are going through significant guilt because they feel it’s their fault,” said Saunders. “In many cases they just weren’t educated.”

Karen Pershing, the executive director of the Metropolitan Drug Commission, says nearly half of drug-dependent babies born in the state are from East Tennessee. She says bringing the problem out in the open is the key to prevention.

“I’m just thrilled because we’ve been working on this probably two to three years now, so it’s so exciting to finally see it all come together and to see so much community support around it.”

“We want women to not be afraid to come forward and seek prenatal care, and to seek treatment,” Saunders said.

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