Teens shown effects of addiction on newborns About 500 teen-agers attended a March of Dimes program this week

April 12, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

An auditorium full of restless teen-agers fell silent as Dr. Loretta P. Finnegan showed evidence of how drug use affects unborn babies.

The slide projector flashed images of children deformed by fetal alcohol syndrome, infants suffering from heroin withdrawal, a baby born with half a brain to a cocaine and heroin addict.

"It's not so good to be an innocent little baby and to have all these agents inside of you," said Finnegan, a nationally known expert on drug abuse and pregnancy.

But Finnegan, founder of a clinic for pregnant addicts in Philadelphia, has seen firsthand how hard it can be to break the cycle of addiction that leads to drug-damaged children.

Speaking to about 500 high school students at the March of Dimes Life Sciences Convocation, held this week at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, she related this incident:

One day last year, a nurse at the clinic approached Finnegan and told her one of the patients wanted to see her.

"She said she wanted to meet you because you treated her mother," the nurse told Finnegan.

And soon, Finnegan stood face to face with a 17-year-old cocaine addict, whose heroin-addicted mother Finnegan had worked with years before -- and whose grandmother had been an alcoholic.

"It is clear that we're going to affect the future generations," said Finnegan.

Her pull-no-punches presentation struck a nerve with many who attended the annual event, which drew students from the city and Howard and Baltimore counties.

"I think that women should be more aware of the effect they're having on their unborn children," said Arista Young, a junior at Baltimore City College.

"I didn't realize the baby can be affected at the time it was born," said Adam Heber, a senior at Oakland Mills High School in Howard County.

Students said the workshops that followed Finnegan's presentation -- including sessions on street narcotics, fetal alcohol syndrome and AIDS -- addressed concerns that relate to their daily lives.

"You go through it every Saturday, every weekend," said Paul Tribles, a senior at Oakland Mills. "There's always a party. There's always drugs there."

"There's always drugs and alcohol," corrected another student.

Organizers of the event were pleased by the relevance of the topic.

"The committee felt that it was appropriate, timely," said Abbey Lazarus, a spokeswoman for the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the March of Dimes. "The March of Dimes' aim is to reduce infant mortality."

The science convocation, now in its 17th year, is intended to boost interest in the life sciences and encourage students to pursue careers in that area, she said. Past topics have included biotechnology and the environment.

This year's event probably will have a lasting impact on the students, according to some of the teachers and school officials who were present.

"I think they're going to rethink their relationships," said Veronica Andrews, a counselor at Northern High School in Baltimore. "They're so free sexually right now. They've got to be more concerned with who they're active with."

And some students may be more immediately affected by the presentations than others, said Alvin Pierce, a 10th-grade biology teacher at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School in Baltimore.

"I noticed, in the auditorium, there were a few of these students who were pregnant," said Pierce. "I believe this had a very important impact on them."

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