Channel 2 Investigates

Babies born addicted to drugs

ATLANTA — The heroin epidemic is affecting a new generation -- babies.

According to federal statistics, a baby is born hooked on opioids every 25 seconds.

Their struggle to get clean is heart-wrenching.

Mackenzie came into the world addicted to drugs.

Her mother, Caitlin, a heroin addict by 17, found out she was pregnant while in detox.

"I knew the baby was going to test positive," Caitlin said.

Massachusetts General Hospital shared a video of a baby going through withdrawal that shows the child crying and shaking.

"And the baby is very unhappy and upset; cries. They have this high-pitched cry. They're rigid. It's a very nasty thing to see," said Dr. Claire Coles, who runs Emory University's Neurodevelopmental Exposure Clinic.


The withdrawal process can be painful. Symptoms can include seizures, shaking and sweating.

Mackenzie showed all those and more. Doctors admitted her to a special-care nursery and gave her baby morphine.

The latest research from The New England Journal of Medicine shows the number of newborns suffering from drug withdrawal symptoms has quadrupled in the U.S. in the past decade.

In January, Georgia started requiring hospitals to notify the state when a baby has the condition. In the first six months, there were 170 cases, and opioids are the most common drug.

Emory's Neurodevelopmental Exposure Clinic helps children born addicted to drugs or alcohol.

"We evaluate them medically, psychologically, socially and then we develop a treatment plan if they need it," Coles said.

We went inside a lab where children who are born addicted to drugs are using new technology to try to overcome their challenges.

Doctors use a video game called Go Far to teach children to counteract impulsiveness by focusing and coming up with a plan.

They also can monitor oxygen flow to the brain.

A graduate student demonstrated by playing a game that is intentionally frustrating, and doctors tracked how her brain responded.

These tools, along with counseling and tutoring, can help these children learn to overcome their developmental and behavioral problems.

More than a year after Caitlin found out she was pregnant, she's still clean.

She credits her own mother's love and her doctor's nonjudgmental support.

But above all, she says it is her daughter who saved her life.

"If it wasn't for Mackenzie, if it wasn't for me getting pregnant, I would've never got clean," Caitlin said.