More than half the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at Louisville’s University Hospital one day this month were suffering from drug withdrawal — one sucking licorice-flavored morphine to ease his tremors and near-constant crying, another so sensitive to light and sound that he slept in a dark isolation room, reports the Courier-Journal. They are the tiniest victims of Kentucky's prescription pill epidemic, and their numbers are soaring, according to the fifth installment in the paper’s investigation of Kentucky’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.
Kentucky has seen its hospitalizations for addicted newborns climb from 29 in 2000 to 730 last year. The state's 2,400 percent increase dwarfs by comparison a disturbing national rise of 330 percent found in a study that examined hospitalizations from 2000-09. “It's a silent epidemic that's going on out there,” said Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “You need to say: 'Stop the madness. This is too much.' ” The skyrocketing numbers reflect the enormity of Kentucky's prescription drug abuse problem, which is among the nation's worst. It kills about 1,000 Kentuckians a year and wrecks thousands more lives in a state plagued by doctor shortages, high levels of chronic pain and illness, and too little drug abuse treatment.