BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - Given all it took to get there, commencement Friday afternoon at Bossier Parish Community College was extra special for one of the Bossier City school's students.
Amber Deshoutel graduated Friday afternoon with an associate of arts degree in behavioral and social sciences. Just four years ago, she was addicted to methamphetamine, and found out she was pregnant.
Deshoutel is not the only one. She and another ArkLaTex mother admit their drug use during pregnancy put their unborn children infants in jeopardy.
Now they are in the fight to stop it.
"I realized pretty quick that I needed to make a change and that a little bit of jail time wasn't going to do it," Melanie Moss said.
They are the most innocent of innocence. Sweet, tiny, precious lives just beginning.
Most of the time.
But not every newborn gets a fair start. Thousands of babies are born every year addicted to drugs.
"I knew that there was no way that I was going to have a baby that wasn't born addicted to methamphetamine," Deshoutel said.
Moss said: "I just really didn't see any way to get sober if I didn't really change the environment I was in."
The 2 women did not know each other four years ago. But their stories are similar.
Both already were mothers. Both also were addicted to methamphetamine, a man-made poison full of toxic chemicals that users start and, many times, can't stop.
Moss was one of them when she found out she was pregnant with her third child. "I never really thought I would do that, but I did. I crossed that line."
Deshoutel's story is similar.
Ten years ago, her 9-year-old daughter went to live with her father. That is when Deshoutel, who had been using drugs off and on she was 11, said she started spiraling out of control.
"I was a productive member of society; I did go to work. I would pick her up from school, take her to gymnastics, come home, do homework. That was our everyday routine. And after she left, I just kind of didn't know why I was here anymore."
Four years ago, Deshoutel found out she was pregnant with her second child.
"Obviously, the lifestyle I was living was not conducive to having a baby or raising a baby," she recalled. "So really what I was trying to do first was have an abortion. Because I knew that there was no way, I couldn't get clean. I couldn't even get clean long enough to have the procedure done."
These 2 women aren't alone.
"It is a problem, I used to witness it back when I was actively using, then it became me," Moss said. "It's an epidemic."
Practically not a week goes by without LSU Health in Shreveport seeing a baby who has been exposed to drugs while in the womb, said Dr. Winston Koo, chief of neonatology.
The number of babies born addicted to drugs rises every year. It is estimated that more than 21,000 babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2012, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In other words, addicted to the drugs their mother's did while they were in the womb.
The babies' drug addiction "can manifest in lots of different ways," Koo said. "They can be very irritable babies, they won't feed; or they can be the opposite, they're ravenous, they just keep eating.
"And there may be other serious consequences to an extent that perhaps they even cause death," Koo continued. "They stop breathing, they take convulsions or they have a lot of vomiting, diarrhea and have biochemical problems. And, occasionally, some babies could die from it."
It is a public health issue, not just locally but globally, said Koo, who thinks there needs to be some societal approach to the issue to get toward prevention.
Deshoutel called her dad, asking for money to help get an abortion. He refused.
Instead, he found her places she could go to get clean, places she was unwilling to go.
Then one day when she was 5 months pregnant, Deshoutel went to see her probation officer.
"I told them I'm pregnant, I don't know what to do. They took me back to do the screen test and, of course, I tested positive for meth. And they put the handcuffs on me and took me straight to jail."
Deshoutel was arrested May 21, 2012. That is the day she got sober.
On July 6 of that year, she started with the Family Institute Program. Two months later, her son Caleb was born. Luckily, he was born not addicted to the very drugs his mom was trying to rid her own body of.
Moss' baby also was OK thanks to the programs provided by Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
The Family Institute Program can help up to a dozen people at a time with their addictions. Staffers provide a structured, supervised residential living service for families 24/7. The program offers treatment for individuals with addictive disorders and needing to continue their rehabilitation.
"Group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, they have group activities. Sometimes they have art activities that they do with the clients. They have 12-step meetings that come in, and they do those on site here as well," said Karen Baird, director of clinical services and compliance with CADA. "And then they have their daily living, where you have your chores, you have laundry, things like that. But they have activities all throughout the day, a very regimented schedule here."
Family Institute Program counselors work to slowly transition their patients back into society.
"It's where I got the foundation that I needed to become a sober parent and to enter society drug-free," Moss said.
"I was able to start attending college, I started going to BPCC," said Deshoutel.
Now the 2 women are sharing a piece of themselves, a piece from their painful pasts, to try to help others who might be in the same situation.
"Don't be ashamed, you're not alone," Moss said.
She and Deshoutel now work for CADA.
Moss is an intake assistant in the admissions department at the Bossier City facility. She screens individuals seeking treatment and admits them into treatment.
Deshoutel works in the human resources department in Shreveport.
On average, the Family Institute Program treats 6 to 10 pregnant women a year. There now are 4 pregnant women in the facility.