HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Arguably, the most innocent victims of the expanding heroin epidemic are the babies born addicted to the drug.
While these tiny drug addicts never had a choice, their mothers do.
A woman in the Carolinas is offering cash to drug or alcohol abusers, and in return, the recipients agree to stop procreating by agreeing to either permanent or long-term birth control.
It's a controversial idea. However, Barbara Harris believes it's also a working solution to this problem.
Harris created Project Prevention 21 years ago. She has paid nearly 7,000 people across the country $300 for their agreement to either be sterilized or get an IUD or birth control implant.
In an early Project Prevention public service announcement, a man spoke over video of a woman smoking from a crack pipe.
"Hundreds of thousands of babies are born addicted to drugs every year," the PSA claimed as the mother then moved the crack pipe from her own lips to her baby's, as it is cradled in her arms.
The images are meant to shock.
Since that PSA aired, the organization's mission hasn't changed and neither has the problem it addresses.
"It is getting worse, and I think the only thing that has changed is the drug of choice," Harris said. "When I started it was crack, and now it's meth."
She also said she sees a lot of heroin use.
"It is an epidemic. It's sad," Harris said.
Her goal is to prevent babies from being born into a heartbreaking situation, going through withdrawals, and having to be weaned off the drugs their mothers took while they were in the womb.
"Even those who oppose what we are doing have yet to give me one logical or rational reason why a drug addict or an alcoholic should get pregnant," Harris said. "They want to campaign for the rights of these women to procreate and have these children, but they aren't willing to adopt these children, so as far as I'm concerned, if you're not a part of the solution, you're a part of the problem."
Harris said the bigger picture problem is the burden this puts on foster care systems across the nation, and that more and more babies are being born into these circumstances each year.
Many newborns exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs while in the mother's womb are born with what's called neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS.
Symptoms depend on things like what drug the mother used, how much she used, and how long she used. Those factors can cause tremors, fever, poor feeding, vomiting and diarrhea.
In South Carolina, there has been a steady increase in the rate of babies born with NAS.
According to data from the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, those numbers have jumped from 1.6 incidents per 1,000 births in 2008 to 4.52 per 1,000 births in 2015.
But that rise in incidents is even more dramatic at the county level.
In Horry County for example, there were 1.26 incidents per 1,000 births in 2008. That rate rose to 10.39 by 2015.
"The children are innocent. They are the victims here. The woman makes a choice and decides to use drugs," Harris said. "I know there's lots of reasons why you turn to drugs, but the victim is the innocent children, the ones in foster care wishing they had a family, the ones that are born with breathing tubes and feeding tubes."
Harris said she has been able to pay drug users and alcoholics because of money given to her organization by private foundations and individual donors.
"If you don't like what we're doing, then come up with a solution you think is better," Harris said.
Harris started Project Prevention because this issue is very personal to her. She said she has adopted four of eight children, all born to the same drug-addicted mother.
See below for the rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome cases for the Grand Strand and the Pee Dee from 2012 to 2015: