Why are We Seeing More Drug-Dependent Newborns?
Drug addiction not only impacts the chemically-dependent, it has serious ramifications on their friends and loved ones. While no one wants to watch someone they care about struggle with addiction, the unborn children of drug-dependent women don’t get the luxury of choosing. who use during pregnancy, the results can potentially be fatal.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a group of problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive drugs while in the mother’s womb. NAS-related problems are the direct result of newborns forced to go “cold turkey,” enduring agonizing detox and withdrawal from drugs. Frighteningly, the number of NAS diagnoses has climbed to an all-time high across the country.
Dire Conditions at Birth
A staggering new report from the Ohio Department of Health found that there has been a 750 percent increase since 2004 in the number of babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome. On average, five drug-dependent babies were admitted to Ohio hospitals each day in 2013.
Health officials blamed a surge in heroin and prescription drug abuse for the ongoing crisis. During this same time period, there has also been an 841 percent jump in the number of delivering mothers with a current opioid addiction.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome has taken a major toll on the healthcare system in Ohio. In 2013 alone, treating newborns with NAS was linked to $97 million in charges. The average stay for treatment ranged from 14 to 20 days, roughly four times more than the average newborn patient. The average charge also jumped from $31,514 to $57,897 and was four times most costly than non-NAS infants.
The high costs are due to babies with NAS experiencing a multitude of health issues including breathing problems, tremors, seizures, feeding difficulties and low birth weight. Unsurprisingly, extreme irritability among NAS infants is also common.
Unfortunately, this surge in NAS patients isn’t limited to Ohio. Several hospitals throughout Massachusetts reported double and triple the number of drug-addicted babies being admitted to their facilities in 2013 compared to 2012. Kentucky reported 955 babies throughout the state being hospitalized in 2013, a huge jump from just 67 in 2001, while the number of babies born addicted to painkillers reached record highs last year in southwest Florida.
There are no federally approved medications or standard protocols for treating drug-addicted babies, forcing hospitals to improvise treatment plans.
The main issue is that while these newborns and infants are treated, the parents struggling with addiction are often not.
At Boston Medical Center, 85 percent of the 106 babies suffering from drug withdrawal are returned to their parents. Robert Sege, medical director of the Child Protection Team at Boston Medical Center, said that one-third of the parents who receive treatment for their addictions afterwards end up relapsing; their children are often placed in the foster care system within a year. Even if they’re placed with relatives, this means the children can’t be fully shielded from their addicted parents.
Having a healthy and happy child starts with you. If you’re a new parent battling drug addiction, look at available inpatient treatment centers in your area. Even if it means being away for your child for a month or two, it could allow them to be with you for the rest of your life.
Additional Reading: The Damage of Drinking During Early Pregnancy: 3 Myths Debunked
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