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July 19, 2017

Drug-Addicted Babies

A Repugnant and Maybe Necessary Step

“From 2003 to 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, the number of babies born dependent on drugs grew nearly fivefold in the United States. Opioids are the main culprit, and states like Kentucky are particularly hard-hit: 15 of every 1,000 infants here are born dependent on opioids.” – from an article by Catherine Saint Louis last week in The New York Times.  

This tragedy effects not only the babies and the mothers who often can’t care for them. Neonatal intensive care units are overwhelmed and don’t have enough incubators both for these afflicted children and those born with other severe problems. It seems there is a news story every day in Vermont about the increase in children needing foster care. Should standards for foster families be relaxed to meet the increased need? How many more caseworkers do we need both to monitor more adoptions and to cope with a mushrooming case load of abused children and distressed families? These are just some of the questions which have no good answers but can’t be ignored.

What about prevention? We’ve tried a war on drugs. We lost. Will legalization of drugs decrease abuse? We haven’t finished the experiment but I doubt it.

If we can’t prevent drug abuse, perhaps we have to concentrate just on reducing the number of children born to drug addicted parents (I don’t mean just addicted mothers; I mean addicted fathers – present or absent – as well). Banning sex by addicted people – or even getting them to use condoms - is unlikely to work.

Suppose we offered $1000 no questions asked to anyone between 18 and 45 who is willing to be surgically sterilized. It may well be an offer that addicts can’t resist. Men may well be more inclined to take the offer than women. It probably would reduce the number of addicted babies and babies born to addicted parents six months after it goes into effect.

There is a lot to say against this idea. The money will go for yet more drugs. Some people will recover from their addiction and regret the choice they made when they were less than competent to make a life decision. There will certainly be people who take the $1000 just because they are in desperate need of cash – or to feed an alcohol or gambling addiction.

To some this will sound like the kind of racist eugenics which motivated Margaret Sanger and many other Americans when she founded Planned Parenthood. However, this is not a racist solution; something certainly needs to be done about addicts having addicted babies here in the snow-white parts of Vermont. The drug epidemic does not respect social classes. The decision to be sterilized will be as voluntary as the decision to use drugs; although clearly some people cannot help themselves when drugs are involved.

I find this idea repugnant, frankly; but I’m afraid it may be necessary. My hope is someone has a better idea. I know we must address this ongoing tragedy and will not be able to do so with rose-colored glasses on.

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