Opioid aftershock: Ky. kids born drug-exposed entering school, special education sees jump

Lexington Herald –

Letcher County Special Education Director Regina Brown said her district has more pre-school students this year with special education needs than without — a sharp and unprecedented uptick that’s reflected across the state, and many, including Brown, surmise early opioid exposure is to blame.

“We do have students that are enrolling in our school system, and so do every other school system across the state, that have kids … with significant developmental delays,” Brown, who has taught for 31 years, said this week. Tremors wrought by the opioid epidemic, including a hike in substance use disorder among pregnant mothers and a subsequent uptrend in rates of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, “directly correlates with the increase in disabilities,” she believes.

Director of Advocacy for the Kentucky School Board Association Eric Kennedy agrees. Teachers across Kentucky “are seeing the… first generation[s] of children enter our schools in Kentucky in kindergarten, first grade that were born with essentially drugs in their system, that were born with that neonatal abstinence syndrome,” he said.

Babies can be born with NAS if their mothers use substances while pregnant. Once they’re born, physical symptoms in children often resemble withdrawal responses in adults, including tremors, vomiting and seizures. The syndrome first came into public view in the 1980s with the crack-cocaine epidemic and resurfaced with force again around 2009 as a pernicious outgrowth of the opioid epidemic. In 2013, the Kentucky General Assembly designated NAS a reportable disease, and a year later, mandated a statewide reporting registry to chart its prevalence. In Kentucky, the two most common drugs children are currently born exposed to are buprenorphine, found in Suboxone and used by doctors for medication-assisted treatment, and heroin.

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