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Statistics Show Concerning Increase of Drug-Addicted Newborns Up 300%

Drug-Addicted Newborns

According to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, the number of babies that are born with a dependence on pain pills has risen by more than 300 percent in the last decade alone. This increase is not only heartbreaking, but also means that nurses and doctors have to come up with new treatments on the spot. Some of the sights include newborns jerking their limbs, vomiting and crying non-stop as they are forced to go through withdrawal at only a few days old. These newborns are the youngest victims of the nation’s addiction to prescription medication, drugs called opioids. These include painkillers like oxycodone. According to the statistics, more than 13,000 dependent babies were diagnosed throughout the country in 2009 alone.

Coming Up with Treatments on the Spot

Many of the hospitals are ill prepared to deal with addicted newborns, meaning that they have to come up with treatments on the spot. Sometimes doctors try morphine or methadone to satiate the dependent babies, but that means that they will still have to wean these babies off those drugs eventually. Complicating the matter is the fact that caring for these dependent babies can take several weeks at a time and will only increase the overall hospital bill. One particular study found that the average came to approximately $53,400 per newborn. Almost 78 percent of the cases were covered by Medicaid, which in turn costs the taxpayer more money. Moreover, hospital staffs are becoming increasingly worried about the babies that they are unable to diagnose right away. If not diagnosed properly, those addicted newborns are sent home and going through withdrawal there. That means that those new mothers, still addicted to illicit substances themselves, will have to deal with very sensitive and difficult babies.

What Does this Mean for the Babies?

Even though we have referred to the babies as “addicted” so far, it is important to remember that these babies are not technically dependent in the way that we define adult addiction. They are not showing compulsive behavior despite negative consequences. Strictly speaking, if unborn children become dependent on opioids, it is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

How Do Women Develop NAS?

Most people are aware of the fact that the vast majority of what women eat or drink during pregnancy will be delivered to the baby through the bloodstream to some degree. This includes everything from caffeine to nicotine, all the way to artificial stimulants. All of these products can influence the appearance and behavior of a newborn. However, if the mother abuses opioid prescription painkillers while pregnant, the impact is even greater, something that can lead to NAS. When babies are afflicted with NAS, they will have the same withdrawal symptoms as any other person would when going cold turkey on opiates.

However, because the babies are small, young and dependent, the effects of the withdrawal symptoms may be far more traumatic and serious than with an adult. One of the first signs that the baby may have NAS is when the baby is born with low birth weight. While there are a number of different factors that may cause that, it is a factor that doctors are certainly going to pay attention to if they know the mother has struggled with dependence on prescription medication before.

What Problems Might Dependent Newborns Experience?

Even though being born dependent on illicit substances is bad enough, a mother using opioid painkillers during her pregnancy can lead to irreversible and permanent damage to the baby. If the newborn manages to make it through infancy, there are a number of problems that may arise in the near future. These can range from immediate birth defects to eventual behavioral problems.

  • Birth defects and diseases - A baby being born with permanent birth defects is a distinct possibility. Some of these include cerebral palsy, clubfoot, congenital heart defects and a clef palate. Children may also experience issues with mobility, have learning difficulties later in life, have a hard time socializing, or may require continual, lifelong medical treatment. If the mother used intravenously, it will drastically increase the odds that a baby is born with dangerous diseases, including hepatitis or HIV.
  • Learning disabilities - There are two reasons that toddlers born dependent may suffer from learning disabilities. The first is that dependence itself can result in mental retardation and/or learning disabilities. The second is the environment in which the child grows up. Growing up with an addicted parent means that the child is likely to experience instability, poor nutrition and suffer from a lack of attention. All of these factors may lead to learning disabilities later in life.
  • Emotional problems – A study from the Department of Pediatrics and the Center for Perinatal Addiction at UCLA concluded that toddlers who were born as drug-dependent babies are far less likely to bond with their parents or guardians. Chicago’s Center for Perinatal Addiction concluded in their study that toddlers who were born dependent might have a relatively short fuse and become frustrated quickly. It is currently unknown whether these changes can be attributed to psychological issues, neurological damage or impairments, or a combination of both.
  • Behavioral problems - Studies have shown that those babies born dependent are far more likely to develop behavioral problems later in life. These may include hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and sudden mood changes. These are problems that may become worse, depending on who raises the child.

What Can be Done about this Increase?

There is no way to eliminate the problem in its entirety, women have free will to use opioid painkillers while pregnant, regardless of how reckless or damaging it may be. However, it is important to educate women that even short-term abuse of prescription opioids could lead to life-altering changes in their unborn sons or daughters. Pregnant women need to understand that alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances may all lead to complicated, irreversible problems. They have to understand that even herbal supplements and over-the-counter drugs such as cold and flu medicine could lead to serious problems. While you cannot force someone to be a responsible individual, you can educate him or her on the issues that may arise if they are not.