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Utah couple arrested after drugging heroin-addicted newborn to hide symptoms, police say

A couple in Utah was arrested after drugging their heroin- addicted newborn. (Video: KUTV)

Colby Wilde and Lacey Christenson welcomed their third child into the world on April 9 at Utah Valley Hospital.

The doctors, nurses and medical staff eventually cleared out of the room, giving the parents a few moments alone with their new daughter. Unlike most new parents, they did not hold the newborn child, overcome with emotion.

Instead, Wilde quickly crushed pills of Suboxone, an FDA-approved drug used to treat heroin addiction and withdrawal, police say.

He moistened his finger and dipped it in the resulting powder. Then he stuck his finger in his daughter’s mouth, smearing it along her tiny, tender gums. Though she had been in the world less than half a day, the baby, like thousands others in the United States, was already addicted to opioids.

Christenson had been “heavily using heroin and prescription pain medication during her pregnancy,” according to a news release from the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

The Suboxone pumping through the baby’s body masked any withdrawal symptoms, so only the couple knew of her addiction.

They left the hospital, baby in tow.

But for an incident at a Walmart, authorities might never have known of what had really happened at the hospital and of the plight of the infant and other children in the couple’s home, police say.

Two months after the couple left the hospital, a security guard at Walmart in Elk Ridge, Utah, witnessed the 29-year-old Wilde pushing a shopping cart containing a car seat holding his two-month-old daughter.

Wilde walked down an aisle and picked out a few items. Rather than check out, he marched directly across the store to customer service, where he returned the items “as if he had purchased them,” police said.

As several security guards approached Wilde, he grabbed the car seat and sprinted toward the exit doors. But he mistimed the sliding doors and reached them before they fully opened. He hit the glass hard, dropping the car seat. It bounced and rolled several times, his daughter still strapped in, according to police.

Wilde scrambled to grab the seat and began running. He exited the store, but again misjudged his path. As he raced past a pillar, he accidentally smashed the car seat into it. Again the seat crashed to the ground with his daughter still strapped in.

And again he picked it up. This time he handed it, and his baby, to a stranger before jumping into his car and driving away.

His 26-year-old common law wife, Christenson, waited inside the store with their two sons and one son she had from a previous relationship. They ranged in age from 2 to 8 years old.

Police arrested Wilde before he made it out of the parking lot and booked him into the Utah County Jail on a variety of charges, including driving under the influence, possession of heroin and methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving without insurance.

Christenson was also arrested on a prior outstanding warrant.

When police searched the house where the couple lived with the four children, they found drug paraphernalia scattered everywhere. One piece was next to the infant’s bassinet, another near a sippy cup. Also lying around was Suboxone, some of it in pill form, the rest of it crushed.

Immediately, the two were additionally charged with four counts each of child endangerment.

The children were tested, and the two younger boys — the couple’s biological sons — tested positive for methamphetamine, according to police. The infant tested positive for methamphetamine, heroin and morphine. The oldest boy’s father, not wanting to separate the siblings, took custody of all four children.

By July 5, both Wilde and Christenson were out on bail. Acting on a tip, police visited their house on July 18 with a search warrant only to find Wilde smoking heroin.

Both were arrested again, and this time investigators collected blood and urine samples. Both tested positive for methamphetamine and opiates. They were subsequently charged with distribution of a controlled substance in a drug free zone, possession by use of heroin and methamphetamine, endangerment of a child and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Though this story might be harrowing, it’s becoming increasingly common.

Infants born to opioid addicts are often afflicted by neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which presents itself as host of withdrawal symptoms that include tremors, hyperactive reflexes, vomiting, dehydration, the inability to gain weight and seizures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Instances of NAS increased 383 percent from 2000 to 2012, nearly the same period of time that saw a quadrupling of heroin deaths in adults. The latest available numbers showed that in 2015 alone, there were 1,419 documented cases of NAS.

[Heroin deaths have nearly tripled in just three years, quadrupled in the past decade]

Hoping to hide their baby’s symptoms, addicted parents will often illegally administer the prescription drug Suboxone, a mixture of naloxone and buprenorphine.

Naloxone, known by its brand name Narcan, blocks the effects of opioids and is generally used to treat someone who is overdosing. Buprenorphine is an partial opioid, meaning it can “block pain receptors and induce a mild euphoria,” according to American Addictions Centers. It’s often abused by heroin addicts who want to control their own withdrawal symptoms between highs.

Here's how the drug naloxone can stop opioid overdoses. "You can actually resurrect someone," said Dr. Phil Skolnick from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. (Video: NIDA/NIH)

The drug Suboxone could combat the heroin epidemic. So why is it so hard to get?

As The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga wrote:

Suboxone is controversial. Even among those who strongly support the appropriate use of the drug, there are some who don’t want to make it more widely available. The drug, after all, has street value. Patients can sell it to fund a heroin habit, although some experts say “Subs” on the street are mainly used by people trying to fight off withdrawal symptoms, not get high.
But there is plenty of evidence that the drug gets diverted; police seize it, addicts talk about how easy it is to buy. It can cause fatal overdoses if used illegally, especially if combined with other drugs.

Wilde and Christenson told police they learned from other friends that the drug can be crushed and used to hide their baby’s withdrawal symptoms. The two remain in prison, and their bail has been set at $10,000. It is unclear at this time if either Wilde or Christenson has entered a plea, or if they have an attorney.

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