Mothers of Babies Born Addicted to Drugs Could Lose Parental Rights Under New Kentucky Bill

Infants born to mothers who used drugs during their pregnancy can experience withdrawal symptoms. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

A change in Kentucky law could mean that children born addicted to drugs would be labeled as neglected and abused at birth. In addition, mothers could have their parental rights terminated and lose their children if they are not enrolled in a drug-treatment program. State lawmakers say the change is meant to address the increasing number of drug-addicted babies born in the Bluegrass state.

The new bill aims to "amend the definition of an 'abused or neglected child' to specify that it relates to a child diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome." This refers to children born addicted to drugs as a result of having mothers who consistently used drugs during their pregnancy. Under the new bill, the state would need to begin processing the termination of parental rights to these children within 60 days of birth, the Associated Press reported.

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This new treatment of drug-dependent babies is just one aspect of Kentucky's House Bill 1, which, if passed, will overhaul actions related to child welfare in the state. In addition, the bill addresses other aspects of child welfare. This includes terminating parental rights over children who have been in state custody for an extended period of time. This aims to reduce the amount of time these children stay in the court system.

Related: Heroin addiction costs us more than $50 billion per year

Neonatal abstinence syndrome occurs in newborns who are exposed to addictive opiate drugs during pregnancy. This may be heroin, codeine, oxycodone, methadone or other opiates, MedlinePlus reported. Withdrawal can also be observed in children born to a mother who used alcohol, barbiturates and even some types of antidepressants during pregnancy.

According to the National Institutes of Health, rates of newborns born drug dependent are on the rise in the U.S. However, the problem is hard to monitor as many states do not accurately keep track of the number of children born drug dependent, NPR reported.

Upon birth, these children display visible signs of withdrawal, which includes shaking and nonstop crying. The children need to be constantly attended to and treated in order to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

This is not just a humanitarian problem. The labor and care necessary to ensure that these children safely recover from their addiction is costly. Many of these children must remain in the hospital for two to three weeks following birth. According to NPR, taking care of a single drug-dependent baby in Tennesee can cost up to $10,000.