Rocked by a series of preventable infant deaths, the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth has adopted new recommendations for doctors and child welfare workers to follow in dealing with newborns exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb.
“It's a big problem,” said Dr. John Stuemky, a member of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth and chief child abuse examiner for the state.
OU Medical Center sees three or four drug-positive babies and/or mothers a week, Stuemky said, adding that it is difficult to estimate how big the overall problem is because of underreporting.
Public attention was called to the situation by a series of high-profile deaths, including Maggie May Trammel, a 10-day-old infant who died in 2010 after being placed in a washing machine at her mother's Bartlesville home. State Department of Human Services officials were notified at Maggie's birth that her mother had been using drugs while pregnant. The agency had received a half dozen previous child welfare complaints.
The commission released a summary report Friday that noted the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile System Oversight reviewed 10 cases involving babies where there was evidence of drug use by the mother at birth.
“Eight of the 10 babies died of subsequent neglect or abuse on average within 6.5 months of their birth,” the report states.
Wanda Felty, chairwoman of the subcommittee that issued the report, said when subcommittee members delved into the situation they discovered a number of problems, including a lack of availability of both outpatient and residential services for substance abuse treatment.
“For example, there are 216 total treatment beds available designed for women with dependent children and the waiting list is extensive,” the report states.
Expectant mothers with drug addiction problems are placed at the top of the treatment list, but more beds are needed, Felty said.
The commission is recommending that an extra $4 million be appropriated to the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department to expand treatment programs.