One baby per hour is born addicted to opiate drugs in the U.S., says a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This rate tripled from 2000 to 2009.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a type of addiction and withdrawal that occurs in newborn babies whose mothers took certain drugs, such as opiates, during pregnancy. Researchers at the University of Michigan evaluated a sample of newborn babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome from across the U.S. By the end of the study in 2009, they found that 13,539 newborn babies in their study sample, or one baby per hour, were born addicted to opiates.
The researchers found that the rates of mothers taking opiates in pregnancy increased 5-fold between 2000 and 2009 and the rates of babies being born with drug addiction tripled during that time period. In 2000, about 1 per 1000 mothers used opiates in pregnancy and 1 per 1000 babies were born addicted to drugs. By 2009, these rates increased to 5 per 1000 mothers and 3 out of every 1000 babies.
"Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ... found that over the last decade, sales for opiate pain relievers like Oxycontin and Vicodin have quadrupled. Although our study was not able to distinguish the exact opiate used during pregnancy, we do know the overall use of this class of drugs grew by 5-fold over the last decade and this appears to correspond with much higher rates of withdrawal in their infants," said Dr. Stephen Patrick, lead investigator of the study, in a release from Science Daily.
"Opiate use in our country is becoming an epidemic. Too often our health system reacts to problems; instead, we must address opiate use as a public health issue. To do this, we must limit opiate pain reliever use through health care provider education and statewide systems that watch for abuses, like people going to multiple doctors to get opiate prescriptions," he continued.
The study also found that in 2009, newborn babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome had a 19% risk of low birth weight and a 31% risk of respiratory complications. These newborn babies were more likely than all other newborns to have such complications.
Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome arise within the first 10 days after birth and may last for weeks. Some of the symptoms include excessive, high-pitched crying; tremor; sleep problems; tight muscle tone; seizures; increased startle reflex; fever; sweating; increased respiratory rate; poor feeding; uncoordinated or excessive sucking; vomiting; or loose, watery stools.
For more information about the effects of drugs on babies during pregnancy, see Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome on The Hospital for Sick Children's AboutKidsHealth.ca website.