Too many U.P. children exposed to drugs in womb

By CHERIE FILA

Coordinator

Dickinson-Iron Early On

In response to recent editorials regarding drug use in Dickinson and Iron counties, I would like to offer the following facts and concerns:

Drug use in our culture and the long-term effects of children exposed to substances in the womb and/or later in their lives have been studied with a gradual crescendo of evidence showing children who have parents who use drugs are at significantly higher risk for health and learning issues. There is momentum in the growing use and acceptance of marijuana, of people dependent upon prescription painkillers, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, alcohol and many other substances that lead to increasing numbers of children born addicted to substances as well as experiencing the financial, psychological and educational consequences of addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration website, Michigan’s statistics of drug use in adolescents is higher than the national average.

As the Early On coordinator for Dickinson-Iron Counties, I have had the privilege to be invited to serve on The Pediatric Focus Substance Abuse Subcommittee. This committee has been formed to inform and inspire our community to take action to help heal and prevent the ravages of drug use. There is a snowball rolling in our nation, and it is rolling here as well. As mentioned in a recent column, half of 11th graders in our community believe that there are no adverse consequences to using marijuana.

Research begs to differ. Risk-taking behaviors by local youth surveyed in our local asset report show 23 percent of Dickinson and Iron County 11th graders used marijuana at least once in the last month, 21 percent got drunk at least once in the past two weeks and 33 percent rode in a car at least once in the last year with a driver who had been drinking. In all of these categories, the use of substances spikes significantly as age increases towards graduation.

A recent ABC News report on the high numbers of babies born drug exposed in the Upper Peninsula has alerted some to take notice of the snowball. Sixty-seven babies were born at Marquette General Hospital in 2012 addicted to substances. Infants in withdrawal suffer painfully after birth and potentially experience lifelong issues.

We know that when the brain is immature, it is particularly susceptible to exposures and withdrawal of chemical agents. During a time when critical brain architecture is being formed, many babies are exposed.

The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute reports that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug among women of reproductive age or pregnant. Marijuana crosses the placental barrier and is secreted into breastmilk of nursing mothers, increasing the risk of complications including altered consciousness in infants as well as restricting oxygen and nutrients affecting growth. Infants exposed through breast milk often experience increased tremors, poor sucking, slow weight gain and poor feeding in the first month of life.

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child cites the following facts significant to the rising use of substances: Neurotoxicity – poisonous effects on neurons – has the potential to significantly alter the architecture and function of the brain. Children who are exposed to neurotoxins before or soon after birth often face a lifetime of difficulties for which all of society pays a continuing price. The time of greatest brain growth is also the period that is most vulnerable to toxic exposure from substances including alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. Dr. Marra Francis from Parent’s Magazine cites decreased ability to self-soothe, higher startling and increased high-pitched cries with later developmental concerns including hyperactivity, impulsivity, delinquency and lower IQ scores in infants exposed to marijuana.

Dickinson-Iron Early On serves children from birth to age 3 who have medical and/or developmental needs. Referrals of known drug-exposed children have increased this year to 16 percent of our total referrals. No parent sets out to have a child with issues, nor to expose their children to substances. Addiction sneaks up on its victims and there are unplanned and painful consequences of both recreational and therapeutic use of substances during childbearing years.

Protection of our youth, from conception to adulthood, through awareness and community action is necessary to prevent the lifelong effects of substances on human brain development. Please join us in spreading the facts and in preventing the generational effects of today’s patterns of drug use in our community and beyond.