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Quick turnaround for a package on the heartbreak of babies born addicted

Quick turnaround for a package on the heartbreak of babies born addicted

Picture of Laura Ungar

It was a sprint to the finish, but we got the first installment of my fellowship project -- a package on the growing crisis of addicted babies -- into the paper on Sunday.

My overall project is on substance abuse treatment in Kentucky, particularly treatment for prescription pill addiction. As part of the project, I had planned to devote a day to the problem of babies born addicted because of their mothers' drug problems.

Then, a state official told me he had requested, and gotten, the state's first numbers on hospitalizations of infants withdrawing from drugs. The numbers were shocking. From 2000 to 2011, hospitalizations for these babies rose from 29 to 730.

My editors and I were very concerned that such shocking numbers would not keep until our planned publication date for the project later in the year. So we decided to come out with a four-page special section on the problem of addicted babies -- and we had about two-and-a-half weeks to do it.

Luckily, I had done some reporting already. I had talked to some recovering addicts and a few experts. But the reporting was far from done. So I switched gears to focus entirely on this portion of the project (with a couple of daily stories interrupting me along the way.) I spoke with many national, regional and local experts. I visited neonatal intensive care units with a photographer/videographer. We spent the day at an Eastern Kentucky program designed to help pregnant addicts stay off drugs.

I worked with our graphics folks to help turn out a full-page graphic on what doctors call "neonatal abstinence syndrome," and ways people can help these babies.

Then I wrote -- very quickly. It helped that all of the information was very fresh in my mind, the impressions very vivid. And it wasn't hard to bring the emotion into the story because I drew on what I felt when I saw babies struggling with the pain of withdrawal, and the mothers struggling with guilt and grasping for hope.

Hopefully, the stories will open people's eyes to a problem that can no longer be ignored, a problem affecting our tiniest, most vulnerable citizens.

The project can be viewed at www.courier-journal.com/drugabuse 

Photo credit: Courier-Journal

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