LITTLE ROCK -- Each year there are more babies born in Arkansas with illegal drugs in their systems.
The state Division of Children and Family Services has been keeping records since the legislature enacted Garrett's Law in 2005. It is named after a child who was born in 2004 with crystal methamphetamine in his body, and who lived only a few months.
The law expanded the legal definition of child neglect to include causing a newborn child to be born with illegal substances in his or her body, as a result of the mother knowingly using illegal drugs.
Although the presence of drugs is sufficient to substantiate an allegation of neglect, under Garrett's Law the mother's name is not automatically placed on the state's Child Maltreatment Registry, because of concerns that a listing would prevent the mother from getting a job.
In 2006 there were 416 reported instances in Arkansas of babies being born with drugs in their bodies. The number has steadily gone up each year, by an average of seven percent until 2011. From 2012 through 2017 it went up more sharply, at an average growth rate of 14 percent a year. Last year there were 1,241 babies born in Arkansas with illegal drugs in their bodies.
For the past four years, marijuana has been the most commonly reported illegal drug found in newborns. Each year about two thirds of the filings made under Garrett's Law indicate marijuana use by the mother, either by itself or in combination with other drugs.
The second most widely abused drug among pregnant mothers, at a rate of 25 percent, was methamphetamine or amphetamine. Opiates were abused by 18 percent of the mothers, based on the drugs found in their babies. Opiates include heroin, morphine, codeine and oxycodone. Ten percent had tranquilizers and five percent had cocaine.
The median age of the mother is 26, and over 90 percent of the mothers are under the age of 30. Those percentages have has been consistent over the past several years.
Last year 70 percent of the newborns did not have any reported health problems. That is an improvement over the previous two years, when 60 percent to 65 percent had health problems.
About 14 percent of the newborns needed treatment in a neonatal intensive care unit, and about 13 percent had respiratory distress or other breathing problems. About five percent suffered from withdrawal symptoms related to the presence of addictive drugs in their bodies.
The mortality rate last year was about a third of a percent, or 0.3 percent. That is the same as in 2016 and an improvement over 2015, when one percent of the newborns died.
The babies born with cocaine in their bodies had the highest rate of health problems (47 percent), followed by those born with tranquilizers (41 percent), with opiates (38 percent) and with methamphetamines (37 percent).
The least likely to be born with health problems were those born with marijuana in their bodies (27 percent).
Newborns whose mothers used cocaine were more likely to require treatment in intensive care (31 percent), followed by those born with methamphetamines (15 percent).
After the Division looked into the 1,241 cases reported under Garrett's Law in 2017, about 18 percent of the babies were removed from their mothers' homes. If the trend from the previous year holds steady, we can expect that 37 percent of those babies will be returned to their mothers within a year.
More than 38,000 babies were born in Arkansas during 2017, according to the U.S. Census.
Editor's note: Arkansas Senator Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.Editorial on 06/06/2018
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