More and more Huntsville babies born addicted to opioids

Alabama ranks the highest in the country in the number of opioid prescriptions per capita.

Posted: Mar. 4, 2019 6:30 PM
Updated: Mar. 4, 2019 6:50 PM

Babies born suffering and dependent on opioids, are the innocent victims in Alabama's opioid epidemic.

A mother who was addicted to opioids during her pregnancy shared her story with WAAY 31.

Mother of three Jenna Gillespie says she is drug-free right now, but also says fighting her addiction to opioids is a daily struggle.

“I started having really bad depression when I was in high school and I struggled from it for a really long time. Doing benzos or opioids helped me get through it,” said Gillespie.

Gillespie struggled to kick the habit during most of her life, including during her pregnancies. As a result, her son was born dependent on opiates.

“I felt horrible seeing my child, my second child, seeing him have to detox. It was really hard. I felt really bad. I felt like I failed as a mom,” she said.

Gillespie's story plays out every day in hospitals across the Tennessee Valley.

Alabama ranks the highest in the country in the number of opioid prescriptions per capita. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Alabama has more opioid prescriptions than people. Alabama is now suing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP for fueling the opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sale.

Alabama providers wrote 5.8 million prescriptions for opioids in 2015, ranking it the highest prescribing state in the nation. According to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, a baby is born suffering from opioid addiction every 15 minutes.

Dr. Stephanie Israel works at Huntsville Hospital and says there are about 100 babies born a year at their facility who have to be admitted to the NICU because they come into the world addicted to opioids.

“So, we have probably, in previous years, we would have up to 10 opioid dependent babies in the unit at one time. Not always, but six, seven, eight was pretty frequent,” said Israel.

Gillespie's addiction landed her in jail. However, she found the help she needed through a rehabilitation center in Huntsville called the Aletheia House Women's Hope North.

Carla Bugg, certified peer recovery specialist at the center, said more about the program.

“A typical day would be, they start off around 9 a.m. They have a class for about an hour and a half. It's either general outpatient or intensive outpatient, which that class consists of information concerning substance use disorder, what drugs do to your body, what drugs do to your mind, what drugs are doing to the neighborhood and community as a whole,” said Bugg.

Gillespie said that through the Aletheia House program she has been opioid-free for nine months. She recently graduated from the program.

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