More must be done to protect W.Va. infants

On Christmas Day, a day when we West Virginians lavish our love on children, including the tiniest, some babies in our state were in agony caused by their mothers.

It is impossible to say how many infants have been born addicted to illegal drugs and/or alcohol during the past week or so – but we know beyond any reasonable doubt the number is substantial. It may well be in the double digits.

As incredible as it may seem to the overwhelming majority of pregnant women and mothers in the Mountain State, some of those carrying babies in their wombs continue to use dangerous, often illegal, drugs or alcohol. When their babies are born, they come into the world addicted.

Health care professionals who, in increasing numbers, must care for those babies report that many suffer terribly from withdrawal symptoms. The word “agony,” sometimes overused, is precisely correct in this situation.

Babies born to mothers who used alcohol or a variety of drugs during pregnancy also are at risk for many health problems, including delayed development.

This is not the first time we have written of this terrible problem. We began focusing on it about five years ago, when the state of West Virginia conducted a study to determine how many babies are born with certain drugs and/or alcohol in their systems.

An excellent technique, testing of blood from newborn babies’ umbilical cords, was used for the study. Eight hospitals from throughout the state, including Wheeling Hospital, participated.

Of the 759 babies whose blood was tested, nearly 20 percent had harmful drugs and/or alcohol in their systems. In Wheeling, 12 percent of the 65 newborns tested had drugs in their bloodstreams. Fifteen percent tested positive for alcohol.

At the time, researchers said the problem had been increasing. We have every reason to believe it is even worse now.

State officials should conduct another investigation, similar to that in 2007, to provide more information about the shameful, horrible epidemic. That may help West Virginians devise some strategy to combat it.

These are our babies, for God’s sake. We are not doing enough to help them. That needs to change.