A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the number of newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) has tripled nationwide since 1995. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a condition in which a newborn undergoes withdrawal from an addictive drug the mother used during pregnancy. The most common drugs associated with this harmful syndrome are painkillers such as Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Morphine. Painkiller addiction during pregnancy has serious ramifications for the unborn child and requires early intervention to mitigate risks to the infant.
About Babies Born with Opioid Addictions
Neonatal abstinence syndrome connected to opioid use is a growing problem. The increased exposure expectant mothers have to narcotic painkillers such as prescription opioids and pain pills are directly linked to the increase in babies born with drug dependencies. These infants suffer painful symptoms of withdrawal such as:
- Excessive or High-Pitched Crying
- Trouble Sleeping
Withdrawal can last up to one month before symptoms subside. Babies with NAS also exhibit symptoms such as low birth weights and respiratory problems.
Infants with NAS often need treatment with an anticonvulsant phenobarbital drug or Morphine to reduce seizures and mitigate other withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, babies with NAS suffer birth defects of the heart, brain, and/or spine. Data on long-term health effects of NAS is limited. Opioid addiction during pregnancy affects the infant in utero as well. In utero effects include preterm births and poor fetal growth. Infants with NAS do survive, but recovery is difficult and expensive. The average cost for the hospital stay of a baby with NAS is about $66,700, compared with only $3,500 for those without NAS.
In most cases (81% according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse), state Medicaid programs pay the charges for NAS hospital stays, pointing to a greater number of opioid-abusing mothers in lower-income communities. However, NAS affects newborns across all socioeconomic classes. After the birth of a child with NAS, the mother is often not in a condition to care for her baby, leading to extend hospital stays and often social services intervention to a find a new home for the baby.
The Source of the Rise of Infants with NAS
The latest statistics from the CDC showcase the growing problem of opioid-addicted mothers. Opioid-related statistics are bleak around the country, with the CDC calling it a “nationwide epidemic” as of 2016. Data suggests that a major factor in the rise of opioid addiction is the high number of painkillers doctors are prescribing across the U.S. Women who suffer from pain pill addictions often cannot stop when they become pregnant, leading to cases of NAS.
Many people with opioid addictions began as patients with legitimate health complaints. Overprescribing of painkillers and lack of addiction awareness has led to a greater number of patients misusing and abusing prescription pills. Opioid addiction can easily turn into problems with stronger opiates, such as heroin. People struggling with prescription painkiller addictions may develop a tolerance for the drugs, and turn to illicit drugs for stronger effects.
Stemming the NAS Epidemic in America
As of 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available), there were 21,732 babies born with NAS. This is an enormous increase from the year 2000, which saw 2,920 babies with the syndrome. In 2012, data showed that every 25 minutes a child with NAS was born. Reducing the number of infants with opioid and other drug addictions relies on spreading awareness of the dangers of drug use during pregnancy and how to get help for an addiction in time to prevent harm to the growing fetus and mother.
The recent rise in babies born with NAS points to a need to raise awareness of painkiller addiction in pregnant women and to intervene before consequences arise in the baby. Early intervention is the only way to prevent neonatal abstinence syndrome and harm to the baby and mother. The first step in reducing NAS is to raise awareness of the dangers of taking prescription opioids during pregnancy and the importance of following a doctor’s directions when taking prescription medications. The next step is to understand the need for early intervention and the treatment options available.
Addiction Treatment for Pregnant Women
Family members can help prevent NAS by learning how to identify a mother with an opioid addiction. There are physical and behavioral signs that can point to an opioid abuse issue, such as sudden weight changes, mood swings, increased irritability, trouble sleeping, and loss of interest in usual activities. If you or someone you know struggles with an opioid addiction and recently became pregnant, early intervention is critical for the health and safety of the mother and the child. Early intervention can prevent birth defects and help mothers realize the consequences of continuing drug use during pregnancy.
An intervention may be your friend or loved one’s best chance of agreeing to treatment for an opioid addiction before the drugs affect the baby. Interventions show those struggling with addiction that they have a support system and people who care. Interventions often lead to admittance into treatment centers or programs, and ideally addiction recovery. When it comes to pregnant women, don’t wait to initiate an intervention. Waiting can lead to NAS or worsened health symptoms.
Family First Intervention has experienced professionals who can travel anywhere in the country to assist with an intervention. Family First Intervention provides drug and alcohol interventions that center on the family unit, including expectant mothers. Educating family members about addictions and risks of drug abuse such as neonatal abstinence syndrome can significantly improve a person’s chances of recovering from a substance abuse issue. If you know a pregnant woman who struggles with drug misuse or addiction, contact our facility today.
Opioid Addiction Is Rising, and More and More Babies Are at Risk of Developing NAS!