Tom Miller: More and more WV babies born addicted to drugs
Until recently, this state's efforts to deal with a growing drug addiction problem centered on mostly young adults. But then came one weekend when eight of 12 babies born at Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston were found to be already addicted to drugs. And some doctors insist this part of West Virginia's growing drug addiction problem seems to be getting worse.
Current statistics suggest that one of every five babies in the Charleston area is born with narcotics or marijuana in their blood. This problem, described as "neonatal abstinence syndrome," was first noticed as a problem back in 2006, according to Charleston neonatologist Dr. Stefan Maxwell. The description describes infants who are exposed to addictive, illegal or prescription drugs while in the womb.
One of every 13 babies born at Cabell Huntington Hospital is addicted to drugs, a physician there told a Charleston newspaper last week. And Dr. Stefan Maxwell, a neonatologist at Charleston Area Medical Center, said that about the same rate is experienced there.
But while CAMC and Cabell Huntington are experiencing the same volume of babies born with this syndrome, organizers of a pediatric addiction recovery center named Lilly's Place in Huntington hope to help provide new efforts to cope with these rising numbers of drug-addicted newborns.
Lilly's Place was incorporated under the West Virginia Nonprofit Corporations Act three months ago. Thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Laura Darby and the Darby Family Limited Partnership, a medical office building located at 1230 7th Ave. in Huntington is being donated to Lilly's Place, Inc. It will be the facility where babies suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and the withdrawal from drug exposure will be treated.
The initial members of the board of directors for Lilly's Place are State Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, who is also executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association; Sara Murray, a neonatal intensive care nurse with 25 years experience; and Mary Calhoun Brown, author and "cuddler" for drug addicted babies for over two years.
Meanwhile, Beth Hendrick, who is director of obstetrics at Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, said she has seen an increase in the number of babies born addicted to drugs but her hospital has not yet run out of room to house them.
The problem there is where to set up the care unit. The hospital's nursery doesn't offer the quiet atmosphere that drug-addicted infants need. And the babies must be monitored longer than usual. So the price of a bed for a single baby with a drug addiction -- depending on the length of stay -- can run higher than $20,000.
CAMC doesn't have any overflow problems with addicted babies because of efforts there to educate the mother and others in the family on how to care for these infants on their own. But Hedrick predicts the problem will get worse as time goes on and that the Charleston area may need to consider something like Lily's Place that is soon to be operating in Huntington.
The possibility of an actual budget deficit in West Virginia state government for the 2012-13 fiscal year that ends June 30 still exists. With only three weeks remaining after tax collections came in $25.8 million below estimates in May, according to the monthly revenue report from the State Budget Office, the final numbers are still uncertain.
The state's budget gap was $49 million -- the difference between tax collections and expenditures -- at the end of March but it dropped to less than $14 million by the end of April. It could have been worse had it not been for a hiring freeze in state government imposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and spending cuts of $28.2 million approved by the Legislature.
Another key number is that the state's reserve account, containing $45 million at the beginning of the year, was available for paying state tax refunds so that the state's general revenue account wasn't needed. Without it, revenue collections in May would have been $52.2 million below estimates and the year-to-date collections for the first 11 months of the fiscal year would have dropped to more than $66 million less than projected.
The state does have an income tax reserve fund of $45 million at the beginning of the year but that was all used up in April and May. So tax collections can drop by as much as $7 million below estimates this final month of the state's fiscal year before the state would end this fiscal year with red ink.
The wave of executive office appointments to former legislative leaders by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who also served as a legislative leader prior to his ascension to the governor's office, continues. First it was former Senate President Keith Burdette of Wood County who was named to a key executive office.
Next it was current House of Delegates Speaker Richard Thompson, who will take over as director of the Department of Veterans Affairs next month. And last week former House Speaker Robert (Bob) Kiss of Raleigh County, who now lives in Charleston and has recently worked as a partner in a major law firm there, was appointed as cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Revenue. Kiss will take over for Charles Lorensen, who moved up to become the governor's chief of staff.
Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.
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