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News 12 Investigates: Children of Opioids

(WRDW)
Published: Oct. 9, 2017 at 2:57 PM EDT
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Monday, October 9th, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Voiceless victims fill our foster care system and our local children's hospital. The youngest victims of opioid addiction are there because of their parents. Opioid addiction is also part of the reason the number of children in state custody has nearly doubled in Georgia the last three years.

Imagine you're pregnant and hooked on pain pills or heroin. You want to quit but risk losing your unborn child if you stop on your own and start again. Or do you give birth to an addicted baby and risk losing your child to state custody?

On a sunny September day, Haylie Wigley smiles at her reflection in a coy pond.

"That fish is totally pregnant, she's about as pregnant as I am."

A few months ago, pregnancy was the last thing to make her smile.

Liz Owens: "How long since you used heroin?"

Haylie Wigley: "It's been two almost three months. I'm doing really good."

It was the bottle, not the needle, that first got her hooked.

"I got a bunch of pain pills for my first c-section and I liked the way it made me feel so I started doing them," the 20-year old said.

Her relationship fell apart. Postpartum depression set in.

Hayley Wigley: "When I first got her taken I wasn't using heroin but I was using the opioids, pain pills, and stuff."

Liz Owens: "Thinking back at that time is there anything you regret with your daughter?"

Haylie Wigley: "Absolutely, things I'll never get back."

She lost custody of her daughter. She lost hope.

"Dumb. I think that's why I switched from pills to heroin because I was upset and I would think about my daughter. I know it sounds bad but it's out of your control."

Hayley lost control too. A few months later, she learned she was pregnant with her second child.

"When I first found out I was pregnant I was using heroin and I was going to stop but you get physically really addicted to heroin and get really sick."

Catch-22.

"I felt really trapped. Can't stop the heroin. Can't do the heroin. What do you do?"

She could try to withdraw on her own, get sick, risk relapsing and lose her unborn child in the process or give birth to an opioid-addicted baby and risk losing custody.

"We have patients who are embarrassed or who are basically concerned about the legal consequences of admitting they're addicted," Dr. Paul Browne with Augusta University Medical Center said. He treats high-risk pregnancies including mothers-to-be addicted to opioids.

"There are no licensed narcotic programs that accept Medicaid insurance and Medicaid insurance is the most common insurance pregnant women use to pay their bills. Most of our patients who are pregnant can't afford that," he said.

Browne runs an opioid withdrawal program which is covered by Medicaid. The volunteer withdrawal program is the first of its kind in the state but it's not backed by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

"The first thing to understand is that the DEA doesn't support drug withdrawal during pregnancy because they are worried about relapse where people would come off the medication and then relapse and then use drugs again," he said.

Babies born addicted to opioids often end up in the NICU. Infant withdrawals can last a month and can even be deadly.

Last year Georgia began requiring hospitals to report cases of babies born addicted to opioids. The Georgia Department of Public Health reports the number of addicted babies is on the rise. From 180 in 2010, and more than doubling to 416, in 2014, the latest data available. The cost to treat an infant born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is nearly $53,000.

Social Services is called in when an infant is born with NAS. Last year. Georgia had the highest increase in children going into foster care in the nation and some of that is due to opioid abuse.

Haylie started seeing Dr. Browne more than two months ago. She hopes to be the off methadone before baby Madelyn is born.

In the months ahead, she will face plenty challenges but she hopes her daughter won't be born facing the same demon. "I don't want to make excuses for what I did," she said.

UPDATE:

Haley gave birth. Her family tells News 12 the baby has shown no signs of addiction but they say Haley still has a long road of recovery ahead of her.