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Carissa Smith

In this West Virginia county 1 in 10 babies are born addicted to drugs


HAMLIN, W.Va. (Circa) - Nestled in the mountains of West Virginia is Lincoln County, where in 2017, one in 10 babies born were dependent on drugs.

Carissa Smith lives in this county and has given birth to an addicted baby, but today she is in recovery and the county is acting to help more mothers like her.

Hamlin, West Virginia
Overview of Hamlin, West Virginia, the county seat of Lincoln County.

"I was a coldhearted person in order for me to have used during a pregnancy and let it take effect on a child. Because they didn’t ask to be brought into the world," said Smith.

Smith has been sober for the last year and will soon graduate from her local drug court. She is happily married, about to give birth to her fifth child and also regain custody of her fourth.

But if you ask her, the road to recovery has been a long one.

Smith's third child was born drug dependent. She said she started snorting pills after the birth of her second child and found her way to heroin.

"I got to where I depended on drugs to get me through the day and to help me function to even take care of my oldest children. I then got pregnant in 2014 with my youngest boy," Smith said.

"He was actually addicted to Suboxone whenever I had him. And then my kids were taken from me due to the the environment I had them in and I couldn’t pass a drug screen. I chose to get high over top of my kids," She continued.

West Virginia led the country in the rate of babies born drug dependent in 2013, with 33.4 incidences per 1,000 births, according to the latest data published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The state's health department recently found the rate of babies born drug dependent in the state in 2017 had jumped to 50.6 incidences per 1,000 births. Lincoln County had the highest in the state.

"West Virginia has always struggled economically since I can remember, and if you look at statistics that are favorable, West Virginia is at the bottom of the list or near the bottom of the list, but when it comes to these unfavorable statistics we are at the top," said Laura Cunnings, a family nurse practitioner for the Lincoln County Health Department.

Cunnings was recently hired by the county to help improve the statistics and launch a Vivitrol program.

"Vivitrol is a medication that is non-addictive. It is not a narcotic, but it attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain, so if someone takes an opioid they don’t get the high that they normally would," Cunnings said.

And to assist in putting a dent in the number of babies born addicted, Cunnings also plans to promote birth control to those seeking treatment.

"It’s kind of like cross selling. If you’re in a boutique and you see a dress and they say, 'Hey there is a nice pair of shoes that go along with that dress,' that’s what we want to do. We say, 'Hey we can help you with this addiction treatment, and by the way there is some long term birth control available if you’re interested,'" Cunnings said.

The county health department will be working with the county drug court, an option sometimes given to drug offenders to receive treatment instead of serving time.

"You can't arrest enough people; you can't jail enough people to make the problem go away. You're not going to incarcerate or punish the addiction out of anybody. I believe that because I've seen it with my own eyes that that doesn't work," said Matt Beckett, adult drug court probation office for Lincoln County.

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Beckett grew up in Lincoln County and now works with recovering addicts in the community through drug court, including mothers like Smith.

"We try to pay special attention to the mothers that are in the program and give an additional effort to monitor their drug screening to make sure that they're doing what they need to do to ensure we do have drug free babies. I think as long as I've been here with Drug Court, we've not had a mother enter the program to deliver a baby with substance dependence," Beckett said.

“In 2016, I started drug court and I was pregnant with my fourth child and her name was JaLynn. I didn’t use my whole pregnancy, and if it wasn’t for drug court she would have more than likely come out addicted because I was really far gone," Smith said.

This is not Smith's first attempt at drug court, but she is thankful for the second chance she was given and gives the county program a lot of credit for her sobriety.

"If you would have talked to me a year ago I would have talked nothing but negativity about drug court because it was against me. They don’t want me to make it. But today, I know that they want me to make it. I know that they are here to watch me succeed not to watch me fail. I was the one who was setting myself up for failure. I was the one that was in the wrong. I shouldn’t have been doing what I was doing. It helped me grow into the wife and mother that I am now," Smith said.

Smith is excited for the birth of her fifth child and to regain custody of her fourth because she is confident this time things will be different.

"I can give them what I was never able to do for my oldest kids and that gives me a lot of motivation to keep going is my babies," Smith said.

"I love all of them and I know that one day they are going to want to know what happened and why they wasn’t with me and I’m going to have to be honest. It’s going to break my heart, but it can’t be no worse than what I done to them. It’s definitely not something you can just get over," she said.

Smith also encourages everyone who is an active addiction and pregnant to reach out for help.

"It’s not worth seeing your children suffer from it," said Smith.

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