ANDERSON — With the number of newborn babies being born either addicted to drugs at birth or exposed to them during a mother’s pregnancy, the local law enforcement community is looking for ways to decrease those numbers.
One option being considered is charging the mothers of babies born addicted to drugs with a criminal offense.
Community Hospital Anderson saw a doubling of babies born that were exposed to drugs or born addicted, and the numbers at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital are on the rise.
“It’s something we need to take action on,” Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said of the number of newborns born addicted to drugs.
He is trying to determine whether there is legal authority to charge mothers that give birth to addicted babies with neglect of a dependent or possibly battery charges.
“We need to get them into the system,” he said of mothers addicted to drugs. “There has to be a safe environment for pre-natal and newborn babies. The problem is the parents are probably still using drugs when the infants return home.”
Cummings said it’s not possible to eliminate the problem by arresting people, but he believes the threat of incarceration will encourage expectant mothers to get treatment for their drug addiction.
“The problem won’t go away,” he said. “The threat of incarceration may be the most effective way to lower the numbers.”
Cummings said his office is talking with local hospitals and the Indiana Division of Child Services about the best way to address the problem.
Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said the threat of incarceration won’t affect the majority of drug users.
“We’re talking about a small number of people, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant,” he said. “We do need a more effective model.”
Mellinger said before women are charged, the county must have a substantial education program so women know the dangers they are poising for their babies.
“That would be a good policy,” he said of increasing education programs. “We do need to hold parents accountable for babies born in that situation.”
Mellinger said a reasonable person would realize the harm to unborn babies, including women who smoke or use alcohol during pregnancies.
Cummings said children born addicted to drugs could be physically disabled for life.
“We as a society have to pay for it through Social Security benefits and special education classes,” Cummings said. “It’s a huge economic burden on all of us.”
Cummings said the problem of babies being born with a drug addiction is the result of irresponsible actions by people who make up a small segment of the county’s population.
“It’s shocking the number of people addicted to drugs in Madison County,” he said.