SARASOTA (FOX 13) – More than 4,000 babies were born addicted to opiates in Florida in 2016, according to state health records.
It’s an increase of more than a 1,000-percent from a decade ago.
Opioid abuse is a problem that continues to plague many expecting mothers in 2018.
“I found out two weeks after I was arrested. I took a pregnancy test at the jail and found out that I was pregnant,” said Jennifer Faircloth, 35, who is in a drug treatment center for pregnant women called First Step of Sarasota.
Faircloth was arrested multiple times in Pasco County between 2015-2017 for drug possession, including Oxycontin, a powerful pain medication.
She said getting put behind bars in March of 2017 was the best thing that could have happened for her unborn son.
“It’s fortunate I was caught when I was because it saved him from a lot of problems,” said Faircloth.
According to health professionals, many mothers and pregnant women fighting an opioid addiction are afraid to seek help.
“There still is that fear of getting treatment and, ‘Will they take my baby away?'” said Jane Murphy, Executive Director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County.
Women who continue to use opiates throughout their pregnancy face the risk of their baby being born addicted to the drug and suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
“The baby is irritable, sensitive to touch, sensitive to light,” explained Murphy.
NAS babies can also suffer from uncontrollable shaking due to withdrawal.
Amanda Fountain, 26, said she took drugs, including spice, up until the last three months of her pregnancy with her son, Jacobie.
Jacobie was born a month early, but he did not suffer from NAS.
Both Fountain and Faircloth openly talk about their addictions with counselors and fellow recovering addicts at First Step of Sarasota.
Pregnant women, new mothers, and their children live at the residential drug treatment center to get clean and learn to live more productive lives once they are off drugs.
Patients are given a synthetic opioid called methadone to fight off symptoms of withdrawal.
Stopping the use of opioids completely – going cold turkey – during pregnancy can be deadly for an unborn child.
“[The mothers] could go into miscarry. They could abort their pregnancy,” explained Nancy Page, Vice President of First Step.
Taking methadone is a risk the women must take. After delivery, hospitals can give a newborn morphine to help ease the pain if the child exhibits symptoms of withdrawal.
“They want to shut down the painful effects of going through withdrawal to sustain and then ween [the baby],” said Page.
Faircloth, whose pregnancy is close to full term, said the structured environment at the recovery center is helping to get her on track and not relapse.
“When we go out on passes to our doctor’s appointments and things like that, there’s always the chance that we could, if we wanted to use, we could do it. You’ve really got to want to do this,” said Faircloth.
The motivation the women share to get clean is encouraging for staff members helping them through the process.
“It’s nice to see when they get it, and you just see that light bulb,” said Page.
Fountain’s 6-year-old son currently lives with his father. She said she is looking forward to bringing him and his new baby brother, Jacobie together under one roof once her recovery ends.
Fountain said, like every woman in the program, she must make the decision to put motherhood before drugs.
“Decide what’s more important. Your wants and needs, or your child’s wants and needs, and how bad you want your kids,” said Fountain.
For more information on First Step or to learn how to get help, visit http://www.fsos.org/.