Hidden America: Nearly Half of Newborns at Tennessee Hospital Are Drug-Dependent


As she was trying to recover, the young mother said she was taking methadone when she was pregnant with Grayson. But doctors advise expecting mothers not to stop using the drug because the baby might suffer from potentially lethal withdrawal in the womb and the mother could have a miscarriage.

Doctors and nurses worked for days to wean Grayson down from morphine, but after some progress, the infant suffered a setback. Grayson was jittery and tremulous, so Saunders decided he wasn't ready to be weaned off the morphine yet.

But Susan Kovac, an attorney for the state's Department of Children's Services, said social workers will likely try to keep Ashton and Grayson together so long as Ashton continues treatment.

"The first thing we would like to do is to keep families together," Kovac said. "If we can't, we're going to look at, is there a grandmother, is there an aunt, is there a second cousin, somebody who can, within the village, raise that child. And then foster care. Foster care is the last option."

And yet, in Knox County, Tenn., foster care has jumped by 50 percent in the past three years. Kovac said that jump is "absolutely" because of painkiller addictions.

The Knoxville Children's Hospital's NICU is a place of enormous heartache, but now and again, hope. Another baby named Mason, who went through withdrawal treatment for three months, slowly made a recovery. After 88 days in the NICU, Mason was on his very last days of his wean and almost ready to go home.

"It's never easy to say goodbye to them because we do get attached," Saunders said. "We know that we have given them their best shot at the first few days or weeks, or months of their life."

But for now, Grayson, who is a little over three weeks old, has shown much improvement but this rollercoaster ride is unpredictable.

"It's just hard," his mother said. "I mean, you don't plan on having him. None of it was planned... I wanted better for him. I wanted to be the mom that I didn't have. I didn't want him to be like I was."

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