Finding Hope in the Idaho opioid crisis in a baby

Posted at 3:15 PM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-11 17:15:42-04

Meet Liam Jess Vetter. “He came out screaming,” says his mother. The four pound thirteen-ounce preemie was born at 34 weeks, but it wasn't his early arrival that worried doctors. They were on heightened alert watching for symptoms of withdrawal.  His mom Sarah is a former meth and opioid user. When she got pregnant, the La Grande, Oregon mom sought out help from a clinic at St. Luke's hospital.

Dr. Stacy Seyb and his team specialize in treating pregnant mothers with substance use disorder. 6 On Your Side first introduced you to Sarah back in May when she found out she was having a boy. Sarah wanted to make sure she stayed sober during the trials of pregnancy, so Dr. Seyb prescribed buprenorphine. The medicine cuts cravings for opioids and studies show it does not cause birth defects. “If we are not taking care of mom, everybody is always worried about looking at what I'm putting in my body, well but what you forget is if you are not healthy and you are doing unhealthy things like using drugs off the street or getting high and withdrawing. Those are the types of things that put the pregnancy at risk," says Dr. Seyb.

“He's been doing amazing and I feel great,” says Sarah about the birth of Liam. Infants can experience withdrawals from buprenorphine, which is why Liam is closely monitored in the NICU. But so far, he's acting like any other preemie. “He hasn’t had any signs. He’s perfect,” says Liam’s mom.

Throughout Sarah's pregnancy, Dr. Seyb gradually lowered the dose of buprenorphine. Sarah says she stopped taking it completely the week before Liam was born. “For anyone to say to moms on this medicine that babies aren't safe or healthy, I beg to differ. I took that medicine for a good portion of my pregnancy and to me he looks like a pretty perfect baby,” says Sarah.       

Liam Jess, or LJ, as his family calls him is thriving. Sarah says her pregnancy and the care she received has made her a stronger, more confident mother. Sarah plans to continue to get counseling and work with her sponsor. Dr. Seyb says pregnancy is a time when women are motivated to change. That's why the St. Luke's clinic is working tireless to overcome the stigma of addiction and treat substance use disorder as a disease.

6 On Your Side is committed to Finding Hope. You can see all the stories from our year long series focused on the opioid epidemic at And if you have a story idea for us, send us an email or a Facebook message.