METHUEN — A 10-month-old girl who narrowly survived after ingesting fentanyl is the latest victim of an opioid epidemic that has been blamed for hundreds of deaths in Massachusetts.
Police were called to the baby’s home shortly before 12:30 p.m. Saturday when the girl was having trouble breathing. She was rushed to Lawrence General Hospital, where she stopped breathing twice and had to be resuscitated. She was later flown by helicopter to Tufts Medical Center in Boston and was listed Monday in stable condition, according to police.
Hospital tests confirmed the child had ingested fentanyl, a powerful synthetic painkiller often produced illegally in China, Mexico, and other countries and then smuggled into the United States.
Police Chief Joseph Solomon described the case as “an extremely unfortunate situation in which a dangerous drug has ended up in the wrong hands and placed a baby’s life in danger.”
“Our main goal now is to find out how this substance ended up in the child’s system,” the chief said in a statement.
Fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin, was responsible for 754 overdose deaths in Massachusetts in 2015, accounting for more than half of all opioid-related deaths in the state, according to federal officials.
The baby’s case is the latest to spotlight the toll that opioids are taking on young children.
In November, a couple was found passed out in their car in Lawrence after shooting up, with their two sons, 2 years old and 9 months old, by their side. In September, video surfaced of a mother overdosing in the toy aisle of a Lawrence dollar store, her toddler wailing and tugging at her arm. In April, a man overdosed with an infant in his car in Leominster.
“These children are seeing their parents use, finding their parents overdosed,” said Mary McGeown, chief executive of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “It’s having a huge impact on the child welfare system. How do we take care of children who are traumatized by these issues?”
No one has been charged in connection with the baby in Methuen.
Police Lieutenant Michael Pappalardo said the girl could have ingested the drug by touching or putting in her mouth anything that had fentanyl on it.
“Even small amounts, trace amounts, on an individual that small could prove to be deadly,” he said at a press conference outside the police station.
“It’s disconcerting and it’s heartbreaking, to say the least,” he added. “It’s very difficult to deal with a young child who has become a victim.”
Dr. Jonathan M. Davis, chief of the Division of Newborn Medicine at Tufts Medical Center, said the most serious long-term risk to the baby would depend on how long she had stopped breathing. He was not involved in the baby’s care and knew no details of the case.
“We always see this as an epidemic that’s really involving adults,” Davis said. “Right now no one’s safe. We have to be really cautious about protecting children.”
Pappalardo said the opioid crisis has reached “epidemic proportions” in Methuen.
Underscoring the drug’s prevalence, police on Monday seized 15 kilograms of fentanyl worth $1.2 million from a man getting out of a taxicab in the city. A 911 caller had reported the man had a gun, although none was recovered. Robinson Rojas-Rosario, 32, of Queens, N.Y., was arrested and charged with drug trafficking.
Pappalardo said the baby’s mother, who is in her 30s, has been cooperating with investigators. Drug paraphernalia was found in her car, he said.
At the family’s home on a tidy suburban cul-de-sac, the mother’s sister answered the door on Monday and asked a reporter to contact Michael Quinn, an attorney and neighbor. Quinn said the mother has struggled with drugs in the past, but has been in treatment and undergoing regular drug testing for about a year.
He said the paraphernalia found in the mother’s car was at least several months old and that no drugs were found in the home or car.
“The family is somewhat baffled” about how the baby ingested fentanyl, he said.
The state Department of Children and Families took custody of the baby, according to department spokeswoman Andrea Grossman.
She declined to comment on whether the agency had any history with the family.
Quinn said the baby was due to be released Monday into the temporary custody of the mother’s older sister. The mother, he said, hopes to regain custody.
Dr. Eli Newberger, founder of the Boston Children’s Hospital Child Protection Program, said while 10-month-olds face dire risks when exposed to drugs, there is also a psychological toll when they are removed from parents. “This is a situation of extreme risk to a child that commands a response that is both adroit and sympathetic,” he said.