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Colorado Changing Treatment For Newborns Born With Opioid Exposure

DENVER (CBS4)- Chantel Palmer's road to recovery has a looming speedbump called forgiveness slowing her down. She has not yet absolved herself for using opioids while pregnant. However, when she peers into her baby's ocean blue eyes she does see a second chance at being a better mom and a chance at life.

(credit: CBS)

Palmer says she will always be an addict. Her battle to stay sober requires effort every single day. She is sharing what happened to her family with CBS4's Britt Moreno in order to change the stigma attached to addiction. Overall, she wants to help other moms-to-be.

For a grueling decade Palmer abused opioids.

(credit: Chantel Palmer)

"I don't want to be an addict. I didn't wake up and decide that I want to ruin my life and ruin my kids' lives," she tells Moreno.

However, her kids ultimately are affected. Chantel was three months pregnant with her daughter Kaydence when she relapsed.

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"I used for about two weeks intravenously, meth and heroin, and you know for the first time, I didn't enjoy it."

She admits to knowing the consequences that come with using, but still she couldn't shake the urge. Homelessness, nine failed treatment attempts and even jail couldn't thwart the need to use. Ultimately, it was the shame of losing custody of her 6-year-old child that made her seek help while pregnant and stick with it.

(credit: Chantel Palmer)

While under doctor's care, Palmer was prescribed a different opioid to prevent heroine withdrawals during her pregnancy. She gave birth to a baby girl named Kaydence at Lutheran Medical Center. Kaydence was born with an opioid exposure and dependence.

"We are seeing more babies who are born having been exposed and are experiencing withdraws," said Colleen Wheeler.

Colleen Wheeler (credit: CBS)

Wheeler said this is a trend doctors have been seeing within the past couple of years. She said Lutheran Medical Center and Denver Health have the highest number of babies born with opioid exposure in the Denver metro area. Doctors at Lutheran see 35 to 45 exposed babies a year and Denver Health sees up to 50. Rural areas like Pueblo tend to have even more. Lutheran Medical Center has one to three babies in the NICU with opioid exposure each month. This state wide epidemic includes all social classes.

Newborns going through withdrawals experience an excruciating amount of discomfort.

(credit: Chantel Palmer)

"They are very jittery, hypertonic, they can sneeze, yawn, run higher temperature, they are sweaty and they breathe fast and can be inconsolable," said Wheeler.

When babies are going through opioid withdrawals, babies are kept in dark, quiet rooms with little to no visitors, because they cannot handle a lot of sensory interactions. Babies like Kaydence are given morphine for pain and yet another opioid to ween them off their dependence. The baby's struggle is hard to watch and now moms are involved in weening them off their dependence.

Chantel Palmer with her baby Kaydence (credit: CBS)

Colorado doctors have recently changed the way they care for exposed babies. Because of the pervasive issue in Colorado, medical professionals have launched the Colorado Hospital Substance Exposed Newborns Collaborative which is redefining how doctors and nurses care for both babies and moms. Much of the emphasis is placed on moms holding babies with skin to skin contact. Nurses teach moms to soothe fussy babies naturally rather than prescribing more medication. This new system enables babies to spend less time in the NICU. Opioid exposed babies were spending on average 21 days in the hospital. Now it's six.

Doctors however worry there are even more babies born with opioid exposure than what is reported, because moms are afraid to come forward and babies are sometimes sent home before their symptoms surface.

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Kaydence is now healthy and thriving which makes Chantel grateful. Chantel is still working on herself alongside the Chosen collaborative which also offers outpatient care.

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"For some people it could be what makes them give up for me it makes me fight harder."

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For moms to be who are wrestling with opioid use, doctors suggest moms talk with their OB/provider first. In the state of Colorado, the law protects women seeking help for substance use disorders in pregnancy.

LINKS: SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) |

National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) |

Families First Support Line: 1-877-695-7996 | Opioid Treatment Program Directory | Council on Patient Safety in Women's Health Care

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