More babies born addicted in La Crosse

A study at a local hospital shows a reflection of the growing drug problem in the La Crosse area.

Addictive drugs like heroin are affecting the most vulnerable members of our community — newborns.

Thirteen percent of pregnant moms who visited Gundersen Health System tested positive for having taken a potentially addictive drug in the past three days.

That means babies are being born addicted, spending their first few weeks outside the womb going through withdrawal.

Over the past two years, the number of obstetrician Chuck Schauberger’s pregnant patients struggling with addiction has quadrupled.

“Our nurses know that any time they can get the patient to come in, I’ll see them. I don’t care how busy I am. We’ll work them in,” said Schauberger.

Most commonly, he treats expectant moms with addictions to opiates like heroin or prescription painkillers.

Those patients need about twice as much care since they have a higher risk of premature delivery.


That care extends after the babies are born, as pediatric hospitalists like Nicole Hennessy wean infants going through withdrawal off the substances they crave.

“We stop the acute, painful, uncomfortable withdrawal from the medicine and extend it out over a long time so that their body just gets used to not having it anymore,” said Hennessy.

But Schauberger said it’s not enough to just meet these patients’ medical needs.

“They have an opportunity to look at what they’re going to do in the future and make an acute change in their course. And we have to help them with that. And just taking care of them here in the office isn’t enough,” said Schauberger.

Schauberger and his team connect the mothers with addiction specialists, social workers and sometimes representatives from local colleges.

“We need to give them a plan for the future that doesn’t involve drugs,” said Schauberger.

It’s an opportunity for these expectant moms to turn their lives around, not only for themselves, but for their newborns.