Facing Fentanyl: Addiction in pregnancy ‘ruins multiple lives’
May 10, 2023, 9:30 AM | Updated: May 12, 2023, 9:40 am
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Investigators said a 5-year-old Whatcom County girl died from a fentanyl overdose in her own home earlier this spring. Her parents were among those charged.
As our series “Facing Fentanyl” continues, KIRO Newsradio’s Heather Bosch spoke with experts who fear the current epidemic will claim more young victims than any drug crisis we’ve seen before.
Listen to Part Two of “Facing Fentanyl” here, and stay tuned for Part 3 airing Thursday:
Facing Fentanyl: Hear the voices of people hurting
“Are you going to tell Daddy you want your bottle?” Cody playfully asked his infant son, Jasper, as Jasper’s mother, Krista looked on, smiling.
Cody and Krista are doting parents. They’re also recovering addicts.
“I was introduced to drugs [at] a very young age,” Cody said. “I remember being five years old and my dad grabbing my mom by the back of her head in bed — yanking her head back — and saying ‘you’d better have my dope in the morning,’ and stuff like that.”
“When I first started doing drugs,” Krista said, “I was 18.”
The illicit drug they used most recently is a synthetic opioid they claimed was everywhere, cheap, and potent: Fentanyl.
Krista said she quit while expecting their first son, two-year-old Ezekiel, stating she started using again when she was about five months pregnant with Jasper.
“I just got into a really bad, depressed state,” Krista said.
Krista and Cody said fentanyl offers an escape while numbing the pain from the past and the present. And, like many people who suffer from opioid use disorder, she thought she could use fentanyl just one more time. But she didn’t stop until about five days before giving birth to Jasper.
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At eight months pregnant and in the throes of withdrawals, she said she went into labor.
“I was bleeding out on the table and almost died,” Krista said. “I think both of us almost died.”
When asked if she thought the drug abuse played a role, she said, “I feel like it did. It had to have something to do with it. There was nothing wrong with my pregnancy, and then I had him a month early after I went into withdrawals? I feel like it did.”
She told the hospital she’d been taking drugs because she wanted them to be able to take care of Jasper properly “and know that he was going to be a drug addict baby,” she said.
Tiny Jasper went to the Pediatric Interim Care Center of Kent, which cares for babies exposed to drugs in the womb. Executive Director Barbara Drennen, who founded the nursery in 1990, noticed a startling trend with babies coming in.
“We’re not seeing heroin now. We’re not seeing methadone now,” Drennen said. “We haven’t seen it for a while, which is unheard of. We’ve seen it for 30 years. Why all of a sudden?”
She stated early last year, mothers began mentioning fentanyl instead of heroin. By mid-year, babies were testing positive for it.
“We haven’t had many babies, if any, that don’t have fentanyl in their system.”
Doctor Christopher Buresh with Seattle Children’s Emergency Medicine saw the shift to fentanyl as well.
“Anything that you’re buying off the street has got fentanyl in it,” Buresh said. “It’s so cheap, easy to transport, and it’s everywhere.”
Buresh said adults who use are not only putting their unborn babies at risk, but the pills, powders, and smoke from burning drugs pose a particular danger to the youngest of his patients.
“Developmentally, when kids are really exploring their environment — they’re good crawlers at that point, putting things into their mouths and learning to walk — and if things are on a low table or something like that, they’re easy to get to,” Buresh said.
Doctor Buresh is currently co-authoring a study on this epidemic. When he spoke to KIRO Newsradio, he shared data he collected from the National Poison Database, displaying unintentional poisonings of children by fentanyl increased from just two cases in 2019 to 230 in 2022. Most of the cases involved children under the age of one, with them mostly poisoned in their own homes.
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Now sober and in treatment, Cody and Krista vowed to keep drugs out of their home. But has the damage been done?
Drennen said the long-term prognosis for pre-natal exposure to fentanyl is not clear yet.
“No. I think it’s just too new,” Drennen said.
Drennen insisted the most important factor that determines whether or not babies exposed to drugs in the womb thrive is the family surrounding the child.
“You know the parents, the family, is the make-or-break factor,” Drennen explained. “Not so much the drugs.”
Krista and Cody are trying to make the best and safest home possible for baby Jasper and his big brother Ezekiel.
“That it’s the worst thing, and they need to get off of it,” Krista said on fentanyl. “It’s not worth it, and it will ruin their life.”
“It’ll not only ruin their life, but they also need to think about the other people around them that they’re hurting too,” Cody added, with Jasper cooing in the background.
“They’re hurting their family, and they’re hurting their kids, brothers, and sisters,” he said. “It’s scary knowing that your loved one is on it and that any moment, it could be the end.”
More from the Facing Fentanyl series
Part 1, Facing Fentanyl: Hear the voices of people hurting
Part 3, Facing Fentanyl: How a synthetic opioid became the deadliest drug in America
Part 4, Facing Fentanyl: Addicts find their way out
Follow Heather Bosch on Twitter or email her here.