Town halls focus on assisting substance-exposed infants in Virginia


WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. - There is a major increase in Virginia in the number of newborns exposed to drugs. News 5 has learned substance abuse is also the number one reason children are removed from their homes by the state. Southwest Virginia leaders are joining officials from others across the state to make sure the services available can help tackle the problem. Last year, 1,334 babies were born substance-exposed in Virginia. According to the state Department of Social Services, that is a 400-percent increase in a decade. It is even up from 1,099 the previous year. "They just have a very difficult time getting started in life. They may cry incessantly. They are difficult to soothe. It may require very heavy medications to help wean them off of the drug they were exposed to," Carl Ayers said. Ayers is the director of the Division of Family Services for Social Services. The drug problem varies throughout the state. In our region, the problem is often prescription opioids. Ayers said, "The treatments look different based on the types of substance abuse that you're dealing with." At a gathering Tuesday, regional stakeholders met trying to get on top of the problem.. State Delegate Todd Pillion carried the new law mandating the work groups with a focus on the newborns and substance-exposed infants in the state. Pillion said, "They have no choice. Their mothers have made a choice to use drugs, and unfortunately, they come out of the womb addicted to those substances." The stakeholders discuss a wide range of obstacles for pregnant or new mothers, including getting access to treatment and other medical care, and finding drug free housing. "When you're dealing with children, we have to look at a global aspect of how we can better serve them," Pillion said. The Department of Social Services will be putting together a report for the General Assembly with recommendations for changes and improvements.