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Sarasota Clinic For Prescription Pill Addicted Babies Could Become National Model

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A children’s clinic in Sarasota is tackling the long term care and supervision of local babies born addicted to prescription pills with a follow-up clinic that is one of the first of its kind in the state.

Most babies born addicted to pain killers only get special treatment during the first few weeks after they’re born.

Typically, doctors and nurses wean them off opioids—sometimes using morphine—and then send the babies home.

These babies are often inconsolable and wracked with pain that leaves them tense and, oddly, with toned muscles just days after birth.   

With a $70,000 grant from its guild, though, the All Children’s Outpatient Care Center in Sarasota will now follow up with addicted newborns once they leave intensive care until they are five.

Shirley Storo, an administrator and nurse at All Children’s, said the clinic was badly needed.

“There has been a need in our community and there has been an outcry from different community members,” she said.

Storo said the comprehensive program monitors development and deals with medical and home-life issues affecting these babies.

“We were able to bring our team together and create a model for this clinic—assembling several specialists including occupational therapy, speech therapy, applied behavioral analysis, physical therapy, nursing, physician, and case management through the Healthy Start coalition,” Storo said.

This means All Children’s arranges for social workers to work with the parents at home when the baby is released from the hospital.

The Sarasota program was described last March in the journal “Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology” as a possible model that could be emulated throughout the country.

While Florida is one of the hot beds for prescription pill addiction, many pockets of the country are also dealing with the same problem.

Doctor Anthony Napolitano is a pediatric specialist in Sarasota and St. Petersburg.

He’s helped many newborns get through substance withdrawal as the number of babies born addicted to pain killers has skyrocketed in Florida.

Napolitano said this clinic won’t just help mothers now struggling with an inconsolable baby and an addiction – it’s also an opportunity to parse out what other factors are hurting a baby’s development.

“By following them out a little bit further, we are hoping to understand a little bit more about these babies, about the illness and about their family,” he said. “And the question is really is: how much is it the drugs, how much is it the environment these babies are growing up in, how much is it the mothering skills these mothers have that are dealing with the babies?”

He said this program could even help doctors like him make sure treatments for the addiction early-on actually worked.

“It’s very important if you are treating patients is to understand if the treatment is working-- to understand what the impact of your treatment would be,” Napolitano said. “Remember we get them through the very sick stages of babies inside the hospital, but then you want to look at these babies a little bit further down the road to see how these babies really do.”

Shirley Jankelevich, a pediatrician at All Children’s, said one of the most valuable aspects of the program is that these babies are going to be evaluated every three months.

She said it give her the opportunity to carefully track their development and gather information that other studies haven’t been able to show.

“There is a high dropout rate when these studies have been done in the past,” Jankelevich said. “So, we are hoping that we will have a good number of patients who will continue coming up to two years. After that it will be more difficult, so what we would like to do is to keep in touch with the patients and then see them when they are three, four and five years of age.”

The program is completely free to the parents of drug-addicted newborns. All Children’s even pays for a cab for all of the baby’s appointments.

Storo said most parents who have been encouraged to take advantage of the long-term care are, so far, taking All Children’s up on the offer.

Copyright 2013 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.