Number of newborns facing drug withdrawal has sky rocketed
The number of pregnant mothers abusing prescription drugs has dramatically increased, and the number of babies born suffering from withdrawal symptoms has tripled in the last decade, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study found that one infant is born in the United States every hour with neonatal abstinence syndrome, estimating to about 13,500 babies each year. The condition can lead to seizures, breathing problems, dehydration, tremors, irritability, and difficult feeding. It is unclear to if the there are long-term consequences to babies facing withdrawal symptoms.
Within the same time period, TIMES reported that the number of women using opioid pain relievers while pregnant had quintupled, and related health-care cost rose from $190 million to $720 million.
“The incidence has gone crazy and I think it has the potential to become a national or international issue. People who previously might not have used heroin or the needle are more likely to use prescription opiates,” Marie J. Hayes, a clinical neuroscientist at the University of Maine said.
The study also found that the average cost of caring for the infants rose to $53,400 from $39,400. On average, the newborns suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome spend 16 days in an expensive intensive care unit for specialized nursing care.
However, the study failed to determine the number of pregnant mothers who had been prescribed by their doctors to take painkillers that exposed their infants to opioid drugs.
“For one, it failed to take into account that there are many women who are prescribed opioids for medical reasons and these women are following their physicians’ orders and behaving in the way that society wants them to behave. There’s no distinction made between these women and those who are using opioids illicitly,” says Carl Hart, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University.
In a national survey, only about 1% of pregnant women admitted to misusing prescription opiods.