Born addicted: The number of opioid-addicted babies is soaring

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — As a team of nurses unwrap baby Jayden from the comfort of his swaddling cloth, he wails. His tiny feet shake. His hands clench and unclench.

His suffering is obvious. Born dependent on opiates, the month-old boy and thousands like him are the smallest victims of the opioid epidemic.

Scenes like this now play out every day in hospitals across the country, as increasing numbers of women of childbearing age struggle with opioid addiction. Nationally, the rate of American children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a set of symptoms experienced by babies exposed to drugs in the womb, has quadrupled over the past 15 years. In East Tennessee the number of infants born with NAS has skyrocketed, with some counties reporting rates eight times the national average.

The problem is so bad that eight of the region's district attorneys general are suing opioid manufacturers on behalf of local babies born with NAS in 24 counties. The suits are two of the latest to be filed in a mounting nationwide effort to drag drug-makers and distributors into courtrooms.

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus, a plaintiff in one of the suits, said the flood of prescription opioids into the region has had a "tragic" effect.

"When you see those babies scream, you see them claw, you see them shake, it makes the problem real," Staubus said. "It's not an abstract policy problem. It's not a lawsuit. It's a baby that never had a chance."

'This Is a Much Bigger Problem'

Dr. Shawn Hollinger, neonatologist at Niswonger Children's Hospital, cradled baby Jayden's head in an effort to comfort him. After 35 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, Jayden was ready to go home.

The number of children needing intensive treatment for NAS has become so overwhelming that the hospital opened a new ward this year just to care for them. Since 2009, hospital staff have treated over 1,800 babies with NAS. In the past 12 months, Hollinger has seen 351 infants with NAS come through the NICU.

"It's hard to explain the magnitude of what the problem is right now," said Hollinger.

A recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control estimated that nearly six out of every 1,000 infants born in the U.S. are now diagnosed with NAS. However, experts say that rate is likely higher, as not all states regularly collect such data.

Opioid use by women in rural areas is driving the increasing numbers. Tennessee is part of a cluster of states, including Alabama and Kentucky, experiencing some of the highest rates of NAS births. In East Tennessee the problem is particularly acute: Sullivan County alone reported a rate of 50.5 cases of NAS per 1,000 births, the highest rate in the state for five years running.

The state has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic, now considered the worst drug crisis in U.S. history. For years, Tennessee has had some of the nation's highest opioid prescription and overdose rates. Women of childbearing age have not been exempt from the scourge of opioid addiction, and recent research has found that the number of pregnant women in the state who use opioids is more than twice the national average. Until recently, under a much-criticized and now-expired law, Tennessee women could be prosecuted for using drugs while pregnant.

After birth, children exposed to drugs in the womb experience a multitude of symptoms, including tremors and seizures. Even after being released from the hospital, some children may still have to be treated with medication and physical therapy. It can cost upwards of $60,000 to treat one baby.

Not enough is known about the long-term effects of NAS, Hollinger said. Children with NAS may experience developmental delays, or attention problems later in life. Some research has found that children with NAS are more likely to end up in the foster care system.

"[It's not] something that is going to be easily fixed," Hollinger said.

After birth, baby Jayden was kept in a quiet, dark room and given physical therapy to soothe his symptoms. But the pain of withdrawal was severe enough that Hollinger had to give him small doses of morphine for five weeks, slowly weaning him off the medication.

"When I was first just seeing one or two babies at a time with this condition, my natural reaction was, 'How could this mom let this happen?'," he said, as Jayden whimpered in his bassinet. "How could she put her baby through this?"

"When we're seeing the numbers that we're seeing right now, it's very clear to me that this is not an individual problem," he added. "This is a much bigger problem."

'I Want Them To Be Held Accountable'

The new wave of opioid-related lawsuits mirrors the legal efforts against major tobacco companies in the 1990s. Dozens of counties, cities and states — including Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi, and New Mexico — have filed suit against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids. In late September, a coalition of 41 state attorneys general sent subpoenas to drug companies like Endo International and Purdue Pharma.

Staubus, a veteran prosecutor with a slow drawl, likened the litigation effort to a David-and-Goliath-style fight taken up by communities struggling to cope with the opioid epidemic.

"The public expects me, when we have a drug problem in the community, to do something about it," said Staubus. "And I'm not going to defer to some federal agency somewhere else, somebody I don't know, and I'm not going to defer to somebody that's made a bunch of money, telling me what I can and can't do. I'm going to do everything legally, ethically and policy-wise that I can do. And that's what I'm doing."

The East Tennessee suits against opioid manufacturers allege that the companies engaged in a "concerted effort" to "mislead doctors and the public about the need for, and addictive nature of, opioid drugs." The suits also name local drug dealers and pain clinics as defendants.

In statements to NBC News, the companies said they are troubled by the opioid crisis and continue to make efforts to stop people from abusing their products.

Mallinckrodt Pharmaceutical said that it does not promote opioid products and intends to file a motion to dismiss the Tennessee cases. A spokesperson said the company has "deep sympathy for the mothers impacted by opioid addiction, and we empathize with the anguish and worry they have related to the impact of their disease on their babies."

In a statement, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries told NBC News it is "committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines" and that it "complies closely with all relevant federal and state regulations."

A spokesperson for Endo said the company does not comment on pending litigation, but noted that safety is a priority for them and that the company is balancing "supporting the needs of patients with chronic pain while preventing misuse."

RELATED: The opioid and drug crisis in America

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Opioid and drug crisis in America
Discarded needles are seen at a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is knowen, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. Known by locals as El Campanento, the open air drug market and heroin encampment is built with the discarded materials from the gulch and populated by addicts seeking a hit of heroin to keep their dope sick, or withdrawal symptoms, at bay. In one area, near the 2nd Avenue overpass, empty syringe wrappers blanket the refuse like grass the used needles they once contained poking through like thistles. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: 'Surfer' shoots heroin in a park in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: A man leans against the wall appearing to be under the influence of drugs on a street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Family members of those who died of opioid overdoses attend the 'Fed Up!' rally to end the opioid epidemic on at the National Mall on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Activists and family members gathered on the National Mall to march to the Capitol Building. Some 30,000 people die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton. Speakers called for Congress to provide $1.1 billion for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: A man rests against a wall appearing to be under the influence of drugs on a street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Brian smokes a synthetic drug called K2 on the street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: 'Surfer' shoots heroin in a park in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid/heroin epidemic take part in a 'Fed Up!' rally at Capitol Hill on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Protesters called on legistlators to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. Some 30,000 Americans die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Quincy Massachusetts Police Detective Lt. Patrick Glynn holds a nasal injection containing the overdose-reversing drug naloxone at the police headquarters in Quincy, Mass., June 13, 2014. Quincy, Massachusetts, in 2010 became the first U.S. city to make the drug standard equipment for its police officers, who have used it to reverse some 275 overdoses, a significant number in a city of 93,000 people. Police forces nationwide are starting to follow suit. The state program has now moved far beyond police, training some 25,747 people in Massachusetts how to recognize the signs of opioid drug overdoses and administer naloxone. June 13, 2014. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY HEALTH CRIME LAW)
A woman suspected of acting under the influence of heroine shows arms to police on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for smoking and injecting drugs is seen after being found during a police search on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for smoking and injecting drugs is seen after it was found during a police search on April 19, 2017, in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for injecting drugs is seen after being found during a police search on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Jessica, a homeless heroin addict, shows her kit of clean needles, mixing cap and tourniquet in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia's opioid epidemic. 80 percent of us want to get out,' said Jessica, before outlining the numerous ways she has tried to get treatment for her addiction. In one case, she said, there weren't any available beds. In another, a treatment provider required a positive drug test before delivering aid, meaning if she hadn't used recently she'd be denied. Instead of getting treatment, she spends her nights trying to keep warm on a mattress under a bridge, the very spot where she was raped and infected with HIV. People come from throughout the city, and some as far away as the Midwest, for heroin that is remarkably cheap and pure at the largest heroin market on the East coast. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug paraphernalia and other garbage litter a vacant house on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man injects himself in the foot with heroin near a heroin encampmentin the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia's opioid epidemic. At the camp, and throughout the nearby area, a user can buy a bag of high-grade heroin at a low price and even pay to have another person inject them if for any reason they are unable to inject themselves. For several individuals, the addiction process was a slow one that started with a doctor's prescription for pain pills after an accident or surgery, and by the time the medication was finished, a dependency was born. After seeking black-market pills to feed their addiction, the simple economics of heroin won out: the price of a single pill could fetch anywhere between 2 and 10 bags of heroin, a savings that's hard to ignore when an insurance company is no longer underwriting the cost. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Michael Botticelli, U.S. National Drug Control Policy Director, speaks at the 'Fed Up!' rally to end the opioid epidemic on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Activists and family members of people who have died in the opioid and heroin epidemic gathered on the National Mall to march to the Capitol Building. Some 30,000 people die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton. Speakers called for Congress to provide $1.1 billion for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A man uses a syringe to gather the last drops from a scavenged water bottle to mix up a shot of heroin near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. The tracks and the surrounding property are owned and operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a joint subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and CSX. People come from throughout the city, and some as far away as the Midwest, for heroin that is remarkably cheap and pure at the largest heroin market on the East coast. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A Philadelphia Police officer patrols under a bridge near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia��s opioid epidemic. The tracks and the surrounding property are owned and operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a joint subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and CSX. Last month, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced citations against the Consolidated Rail Corporation for what the mayor, in a release, said was Conrail's failure to clean and secure their own property.' Visitors and homeless residents of the gulch say the trash isn't their fault, and that they are only there because they have nowhere else to go. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
SANFORD, ME - FEBRUARY 16: Milo Chernin, who lost her son Sam to a heroin overdose on Jan. 16, 2017, looks at photos at her home in Sanford. She says that Sam, who died at age 25, struggled with his addiction and could not stay away from heroin despite getting treatment. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid/heroin epidemic take part in a 'Fed Up!' rally at Capitol Hill on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Protesters called on legistlators to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. Some 30,000 Americans die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GROTON, CT - MARCH 23: A box of the opioid antidote Naloxone, also known as Narcan, sits on display during a family addiction support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT. The drug is used to revive people suffering from heroin overdose. The group Communities Speak Out organizes monthly meetings at a public library for family members to talk about how their loved ones' addiction affects them and to give each other emotional support. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MARCH 23: A heroin user injects himself on March 23, 2016 in New London, CT. Communities throughout New England and nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GROTON, CT - MARCH 23: Family members of people addicted heroin and opioid pain pills share stories during a support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT. The group Communities Speak Out organizes monthly meetings at a public library for family members to talk about how their loved ones' addiction affects them and to give each other emotional support. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MARCH 14: Jackson, 27, who said he is addicted to prescription medication, lies passed out in a public library on March 14, 2016 in New London, CT. Police say an increasing number of suburban addicts are coming into the city to buy heroin, which is much cheaper than opioid painkillers. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - FEBRUARY 06: 'Buck' who is 23 and addicted to heroin, shoots up Suboxone, a maintenance drug for opioid dependence that is also highly addictive on February 6, 2014 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently devoted his entire State of the State speech to the scourge of heroin. Heroin and other opiates have begun to devastate many communities in the Northeast and Midwest leading to a surge in fatal overdoses in a number of states. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high. Heroin, which has experienced a surge in production in places such as Afghanistan and parts of Central America, has a relatively inexpensive street price and provides a more powerful affect on the user. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Purdue is also trying to strike that balance, according to a spokesperson. While it denies the allegations in the suits, the spokesperson said, Purdue is "dedicated to being part of the solution" and is making efforts to work with law enforcement and prevent the abuse of its products. The company also said that its painkiller OxyContin represents only 1.7 percent of opioids prescribed nationally, and 1.6 percent of opioid prescriptions in Tennessee.

Opioid manufacturers, including Purdue, have paid millions in fines and settlements over the years. This summer, Mallinckrodt entered into a $35 million settlement with the Department of Justice, to resolve allegations that it ignored its responsibility to report the diversion of its oxycodone pills to the black market — some of which ended up in Tennessee. The company did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

Also this summer, the Food and Drug Administration asked Endo to remove its opioid painkiller Opana ER from the market, saying that the benefits no longer outweighed the risks. It was the first time the agency had ever moved to pull an opioid medication from sale.

"I want them to be held accountable in my county, where I live, where this damage is done," Staubus said. "I want them to pay not just financially but I want them to pay in the fact that there's going to be an accounting, legally, that they did this and they harmed the community, and they're at fault."

'Who's Going To Step Up and Admit That They Were Wrong?'

Libby Harris, 45, of Claiborne County, Tennessee, said she doesn't think her son or daughter realized how far-reaching the consequences would be when they used opioid pills for the first time.

Her daughter became hooked after using them recreationally, Harris said. For years, she struggled with addiction. Then she became pregnant. And the consequences trickled down to Bella, her 17-month-old granddaughter, who was born dependent.

"It's hard to explain how devastating it is, knowing that here's this precious baby coming into this world," Harris said. "And she's going to have so much to overcome, just from being born."

There were so many hard parts. Overcoming the anger she felt at her daughter, coming to terms with the facts of addiction."That's what people need to understand," Harris said. "They think it's just you can lay it down and walk away. You can't do that. It doesn't work like that."

And there were her granddaughter's unrelenting cries. "It was unfair to her," she said.

Claiborne County, on the Kentucky border, has one of the highest rates of NAS in Tennessee. Harris said nearly every family in this community of green pastures and rolling mountain ridges has dealt with the opioid epidemic in one way or another.

"You have to also look to what's going to happen to all these kids when there's nobody to take care of them," she said. "It's not exaggerating to say there's going to be a generation of orphans."

"Who's going to step up and admit that they were wrong about a product that caused this?" she added. "People made a choice. But I don't feel that they knew the force they were dealing with."

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