Opiate addicted mothers are sharing their addiction with their babies. With opiate addiction on the rise, a new study from the US has found a five fold increase in opiate addiction over the last decade. The number of mothers abusing drugs like heroin, methadone and many types of pain killers has spiked as these drugs become more available. The study, published in the journal of the American Medical Association, also revealed that the number of drug addicted newborns is three times higher than it was ten years ago. This increase means there is one new drug addicted baby born every hour.
These babies face more than just a bit of colic, they have a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS. Infants with NAS show symptoms of drug withdrawal. They are also more likely to have respiratory problems, low birth weight, difficulty feeding and seizures.
The studies lead researcher and neonatal-perinatal fellow at the University of Michigan, Dr. Stephen Patrick said, “I take care of babies in the intensive care unit, and it felt like we were seeing an increase of babies with NAS in our ICU. I see these babies on a regular basis. You hear them crying down the hall – it’s easy to identify them.”
While the newborns struggle with the symptoms of their addiction, a new CDC report shows opiate use has quadrupled in the US. In his study, Patrick found that babies from lower income families were more likely to have NAS despite the rise in opiate abuse spanning all income levels.
“It’s important to know these families come from all different walks of life,” Patrick said. “This problem doesn’t discriminate. There should be more attention brought to this—researchers need to find ways to treat opiate addiction, and on a state and federal level, we need to think of ways of reducing opiate use.”
While treating opiate addiction may seem like an obvious answer, it can be very difficult to put into practice. Street drugs like heroin are easy to find and pain killers are some of the most prescribed medications on the market. More importantly, without screening, it is difficult to know if someone even has an opiate addiction. It is often the case that women could have been addicted long before they got pregnant. By the time they go in for blood work and tests for their pregnancy, the addiction may have already affected the baby and made treatment more complex.
Some doctors are calling for better opiate monitoring programs and drug screening for pregnant women but this could encourage addicted mothers to avoid the hospital completely. That could have disastrous effects, as babies with NAS can be very vulnerable. Other suggested solutions include better education around opiate use. Many addicts start taking pain killers for a legitimate problem but become addicted later. In any case, opiate addiction is becoming a greater problem world wide. It is important to find a solution before this becomes a greater burden on the healthcare system and society as a whole.