Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) occurs to newborns whose mothers use opiates during pregnancy. The newborn is born with symptoms of drug withdrawal, which can include increased irritability, respiratory distress, tremors and seizures. The newborn is also at greater risk for low birth weight and mortality.
Rates are Rising
The Center for Disease Control reports that sales of painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin have quadrupled over the last decade. A recent national study indicates that 16.2% of pregnant teens and 7.4% of pregnant women ages 18 to 25 use illicit drugs, while a study by the University of Michigan found the number of mothers using painkillers during pregnancy has increased fivefold.
In turn, NAS cases tripled between 2000-2009, with the rate increasing from 1.2 to 3.39 per 1,000 births per year. In 2009, one newborn with NAS was born every hour. Newborns with NAS are 31% more likely to have respiratory diseases, 19% more likely to have low birth weight, 18% more likely to have feeding difficulties and 2% more likely to have seizures.
A Drain on Public Health Resources
The average cost of treating babies with NAS increased 35 percent between 2000-2009. In addition, newborns with NAS are 78% more likely to be covered by Medicaid and 36% more likely to reside in the lowest-income zip codes.
Public health experts argue we must limit opiate painkiller use through healthcare provider education and monitoring of abuses, such as patients who attempt to get a prescription from multiple doctors. In addition, improving and standardizing NAS treatment methods may reduce symptoms and the length of hospital stays.
Avoiding the Dangers
If you think a loved one may be using drugs during pregnancy, show your support for her and her baby by discussing the issue. Show her this article and explain the risks of NAS. Encourage her to work with a prenatal care specialist to overcome the addiction and protect the health of her newborn and herself.