A new training program in Bemidji is teaching foster parents how to wean infants off opioid addictions in their homes.

A new training program in Bemidji is teaching foster parents how to wean infants off opioid addictions in their homes.

The number of infants born with opioids in their systems has doubled in Minnesota in the last five years, Minnesota Public Radio reported. About 7 percent of babies born in Bemidji have drugs in their system at birth.

Many of the babies must be weaned off opioid addictions using morphine, which eases withdrawal symptoms, but requires a two-week hospital stay. Eight longtime foster families have been taught how to administer methadone at home instead, but no infants have gone through the new program yet.

State Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said the program is the first of its kind in Minnesota as programs to help infants through opioid withdrawal would not have been needed years ago.

It takes about a month to wean the babies off opioids with methadone, but it's easier to administer the correct dosage and less expensive. A few weeks of morphine in a hospital nursery costs $30,000, while treatment in a foster home costs less than $1,000, said Alyssa Bruning, a registered nurse at the Sanford Medical Center in Bemidji.

"Babies are just going to get more specialized care at home," Bruning said. "They're going to be bonding with parents instead of nursing staff. It's just a better environment."

A hospital isn't the best place for a baby to come off opioids, said John and Cindy Ness, foster parents who went through the training program.

"You walk into a hospital nursery and you see a baby," John Ness said. "It's all bright and there's people around, poking and prodding. When babies are born with addiction, they need less stimulation."

In Minnesota, more white people die of opioid overdoses than anyone else, but the state's smaller African-American and Native American communities are disproportionately affected.

Bruning said that last year alone, 75 infants were placed on child protective holds in Bemidji, up from less than 30 six years ago. Nearly all of them were placed on hold because either the child or mother tested positive for an illicit substance.

The Nesses hope the new at-home methadone treatment will make drug exposed babies' lives easier.

"There's not that many people stepping up to help these little guys," John Ness said. "We're capable of doing it. We can help give them a better start."