We know how the opioid crisis is impacting North Alabama families. We wanted to look at the littlest victims, babies being born drug dependent and what it takes to help them heal.
"Through the years, it's definitely been higher than previously," said Doctor Stephanie Israel, a pediatrician at Huntsville Hospital. Doctor Israel works in the neonatal unit at Huntsville's Women and Children facility, treating babies born drug dependent.
"Actually, a lot of the babies born to mom's dependent on drugs are someone who's on a maintenance dose of something like methadone, due to having been hooked on something early in their life," said Israel. Babies born addicted are treated with medications, but there is another important aspect of their recovery.
"They need swaddling, they need physical touch, they need a lot of support and time," said Israel.
That's where cuddlers come in. Cuddlers are volunteers who go through extensive training to be able to provide hands-on support to the babies, which is so important in a babies recovery.
"They sing to them, they read to them. So, the babies are exposed to all of that, it can really just help their development," added Israel. After the babies finish treatment, Doctor Israel said the goal is to get them back with their parents. However, in some cases that doesn't happen.
"Sometimes they do get placed into foster care, sometimes they do get adopted." said Israel.
Babies born dependent are often treated outside the NICU. Doctors say it usually takes around three weeks to ween a baby off their drug dependence. The long-term effects for babies born drug dependent can be minor to severe, including developmental and educational delays.
The cuddler volunteer program requires an application and previous hospital volunteer hours to be considered. For more information on volunteer opportunities at Huntsville Hospital, visit https://www.huntsvillehospital.org/volunteer.