The tiniest addicts: How U.P. babies became part of opioid epidemic

May 11, 2018

Originally published by The Detroit Free Press.

The new baby arrived at UP Health Systems in Marquette by ambulance on a January evening, well past dark and nearing, maybe, the end of a long shift for nurse practitioner Kelly Kurin. 

Barely a day old, he was a mess — his legs shook uncontrollably. His arms, raised to his head, his tiny fingers splayed, shook too. His skin was red and splotchy with upset; his gasping, desperate cry inconsolable.

The new baby was dope sick. He was in full-on, cold-turkey withdrawal from the opioids his mother took while pregnant.

Kurin and the nurses in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit checked over the baby, quietly. They knew from experience that noise and commotion would further agitate him, his nervous system frayed. They measured him, wired him to a monitor to track his vital signs, offered him a pacifier in which he expressed mild interest for a couple of seconds before returning to his heartbreaking, gut-wrenching cry.

In a few hours, the infant would get his first dose of methadone, the old school stuff some junkies still receive when they want to get off drugs.  A nurse would coax a few droplets into his mouth from a syringe. It would alleviate withdrawal symptoms — low-grade fever, shakes, rigid muscles, sneezes, crying — and help him to sleep. 

After that, the NICU nurses would do what they always do with their drug-addicted babies. They'd swaddle him in a light blanket: The babies find the closeness of the fabric soothing. They'd feed him, change him and make him comfortable.

They'd love him because it's difficult to resist a baby, so cute, so innocent, so vulnerable. And also because lots of times the parents of these drug-exposed babies disappear into the darkness of their own lives and the nurses are all the babies have. They are the only people to talk softly to them and hold them when they are miserable from stomach cramps or raw from diaper rash brought on by the diarrhea that often accompanies their withdrawal. The only people to tell them they are beautiful and special.

"Look at that dimple, so cute," Kurin — who has seen it all in the 27 years she has worked in the NICU  — cooed to the new baby.

Though still fretful, he was calming, settling into a crib  parked across the room from four more drug-exposed babies and around the corner from another.

Read the full story at: https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/05/03/opioid-epidem...