Number of drug-addicted babies on the rise in Sonoma County
Monday. Wake up. Text your dealer. Oxycodone if he has it, but hydrocodone works, too. No money? Figure it out.
Tuesday. Wake up. Text him again.
Thursday. More. You’re smart; you’re young. You can control this.
Sunday. You hide it all. You black out. You steal from your family if you have to.
Then, one day you’re 24.
And you’re pregnant.
“I was shocked,” said Anni McAnallan of the discovery that she was expecting a child.
That was her life. She’s clean now and has been for six months, ever since she gave birth to her son. She asked that he be referred to by his middle name: Valentino.
“It means strength, survivor,” McAnallan said.
Valentino is one of a rapidly growing number of children in Sonoma County who are born addicted to drugs.
Every year, an average of 25 babies are born with drug addictions in Sonoma County, according to data from 2012 to 2014, the most recent available from the county. The numbers have nearly tripled from a decade ago, when the average was nine drug-addicted babies per year.
The problem is significant in Sonoma County, where the rate of drug-addicted babies - 5.3 babies for every 1,000 born - is now twice the state average. In California, about 1,190 babies were born addicted to drugs in 2014, according to data from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
Valentino was born on July 15, 2015, about three weeks early, and weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces.
“A healthy, opiate-addicted baby boy,” McAnallan said.
He was, though, symptomatic: irritable, restless and stiff. He shook uncontrollably. Both he and McAnallan, who was in withdrawal at the time, were given drug tests. Both tested positive.
At the time of her son’s birth, McAnallan’s tolerance for painkillers was so high, the morphine that doctors gave her barely did anything to numb the pain of childbirth.
She only saw a doctor for her pregnancy two times before that July day.
“It wasn’t even because I was trying to avoid it,” she said. “I was just too busy trying to get high.”
Both times she went to the Vista Family Health Center, and neither time was she put through the county’s mandated “universal screening,” she said. The screening is a simple question that all pregnant women visiting a public clinic are supposed to be asked: Do you use drugs?
When McAnallan first found out she was pregnant, she knew her alcohol abuse had to end. “I don’t know - for some reason in my mind, I just thought that, like, there was a drastic difference between alcohol use while being pregnant and smoking Oxy while being pregnant,” she said referring to oxycodone, an opioid pain medication. “It made sense in my mind at the time.”
She never told anyone that she was using drugs while she was pregnant. Not her husband, not her parents, not a doctor.
“I used a lot during my pregnancy,” she said. “Hydrocodone, oxycodone. When I couldn’t get that, I would use Xanax to counteract the withdrawal. Marijuana I used my whole pregnancy. It was the same vicious cycle of trying to get the drug, spending all day getting the drug, and I kept telling myself, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to stop. Tomorrow I’m going to stop.’ But I could not stop for the life of me. Even knowing I was growing another life, I could not stop. I didn’t know how.”
She did take prenatal vitamins occasionally, but they made her sick.
The universal screening was developed as part of the county’s Drug Free Babies program, and was meant to be a way for health care providers to talk to mothers about healthy pregnancy, something that can be achieved even while using drugs. For example, for women addicted to opioids, like McAnallan, it’s actually healthier for them to be given an opioid prescription while pregnant, to maintain a constant level of opioids in their system, rather than put the mother’s body into any kind of shock from withdrawal, which could then risk the pregnancy.
The Drug Free Babies program, which was founded six years ago to help clients get into treatment, serves about 30 women every year, said Marena Koukis, the county’s perinatal placement specialist. That number, though, she said, is actually half the total number of women who are referred to the program by health care providers.
But that only shows part of the problem, explained Dr. Erin Lunde, with the Vista Family Health Center. In California, because hospitals aren’t required to give newborns or mothers toxicology tests, many babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) - the term for a group of problems for newborns exposed to addictive narcotics before birth - go undetected.