How the opioid crisis is hurting a growing number of children & babies

Posted at 10:29 PM, Nov 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 10:39:47-04

We’ve reported on the opioid crisis and how more and more people are losing their lives. Many of the victims you don’t hear about are children.

Brendyn Russell, from Waterford, is like any kid. He loves sports, hanging out with friends, and doing tricks on his scooter. 

He also would love to do fun things with both his mom and his dad, but for the first five years of his life both of his parents were using heroin. They left him with relatives where they knew he would be cared for.

“You want to come home, but you can’t because you are just too sick. You need to stay away and you don’t know how to get better,” said Jamie Neubeck, Brendyn’s mom.

Jamie says she found herself in and out of jail  for crimes committed to feed their heroin addiction. She says a judge saved her life when she sentenced her to 18-months in prison for shoplifting.

In prison she got treatment. Her two sons motivated her to stay sober. She became the mom she wanted to be.

“You cannot overwhelm yourself with looking at the top of the mountain. Just look at the step you are about to take,” she says is her advice to those in recovery.

“I kind of feel lucky because most kids, they can’t have just one of their parents come back from that,” said Brendyn.

While Brendyn’s mom committed herself to sobriety, his dad continued to struggle.

“I always thought 'he is going to be sober one day. We can play together.'  But when my mom told me he died I figured out he can’t play with me ever again,” said Brendyn.

“I just had to tell him, and he collapsed crying. He just cried,” said Jamie of telling her son the devastating news.

“I just want to see him again,” said Brendyn.

Brendan’s dad, Jesse Russell, died just over a year ago, right before his tenth birthday. When he looks at family photos, he sees a man who loved him.

Jamie says people wrongfully assume addicts don’t care about their children.

“Most of us care more than you would ever know. That is part of the reason that keeps us using. It is the pain of what we have done and who we hurt,” said Jamie.

Still, doctors say from what they see -  more and more children will be hurt. More people are abusing heroin and opiates.

Doctors say they are seeing a disturbing trend in that an increasing number of women are giving birth to addicted babies.

“It has been an exponential increase over the last few years,” said Dr. Melissa February, Neonatologist at Children's Hospital of Michigan.

At Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit doctors say lately there is always a tiny newborn going through withdrawal.

“They look uncomfortable. They are crying all the time,” said Dr. February. “They have seizures. They have tremors.”

Doctors often wean them off opiates with morphine. The treatment is the difference between life and death.

“Sometimes if this is missed they can succumb or die,” said Dr. February.

“To see it in a newborn that hasn’t had a chance to prove themselves yet is sad,” said Briita Wanhala, who volunteers at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

Briita gives sick babies the cuddling they need.  She says the babies going through withdrawal are some of the hardest to comfort.

“They need a lot more love and attention than some of the babies that are here,” she said.

It has increased the demand for foster families to take care of newborns while parents get treatment.

“One of the things I can tell you is it is harder to find a foster care placement for any child coming into care,” said Collin Parks, CPS Manager for Programs and Policy in Michigan.

He says often parents don’t ask for help dealing with their addiction because they are afraid of losing their children.  He says the state policy is to do whatever is possible to help in recovery so you can be a safe parent.

Brendyn says he shared his painful story because he wants other parents to get help. He doesn’t want to see other children feel what he feels.

“I just want them to see how much it hurts the kid who has to deal with this stuff. It isn’t their fault. They don’t deserve this,” said Brendyn of his message to parents struggling with addiction.  “Just try your hardest to get off it. If you have a kid, put your goal at I am going to do this for my kid.  It might work out better.”