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Newborn drug withdrawal on the rise

Published On: 10-13-2015 in Category: addiction, Children, Withdrawal, Women


Most women are very careful during pregnancy to avoid using any substance that may adversely affect their growing babies. Physicians advise drugs, alcohol and tobacco be avoided; obstetricians may also advise against eating certain foods. Any medication taken during pregnancy should only be used when recommended or prescribed by a doctor.

According to Health Day News, the number of babies admitted to neonatal intensive care units with drug withdrawal symptoms has quadrupled since 2004. Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) occurs in newborns in the form of withdrawal symptoms if a mother uses narcotics during pregnancy.

A recent study, published in April of 2015 in Pediatrics, scrutinized the medical records of 112,000 women in the Tennessee Medicaid program between 2009 and 2011 and found that 28 percent of those surveyed had filled a prescription for at least one narcotic painkiller, including hydrocodone, oxycontin, codeine and morphine.

Thirty percent of the expectant mothers who participated in the study had used at least one of the previously listed drugs during pregnancy, risking NAS if they also smoked or took antidepressants. Nearly all of the women used short-acting drugs such as hydrocodone or oxycodone, only 3 percent were taking maintenance therapy medications for addiction to illegal drugs.

Symptoms of NAS:


2.Irritability; excessive crying

3.Sleep disturbances

4.High-pitched crying

5.Muscle tension

6.Hyperactive reflexes


8.Yawning, stuffy nose and sneezing

Dr. Stephen Patrick, lead study author, neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville was taken aback by the number of doctors who had prescribed opioid medications for pregnant women along with how many of them smoked during pregnancy, increasing the chances of developing NAS.

Another study at Baylor University Medical Center looked into the number of days NAS babies spent in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) and found that, from 2004 to 2013, babies admitted with drug withdrawal symptoms rose from 0.6 percent to 4 percent. Eight neonatal centers reported that in 2013, more than 20 percent of NICU days were spent caring for NAS infants. The results were published online in the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with a presentation at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego, California.

The women who were prescribed painkillers were found to be more likely to be Caucasian with a history of headaches, migraines and muscular or skeletal problems. They were also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety and smoke tobacco. Of those participating in the study, 42 percent of the women using prescribed narcotics also smoked during their pregnancies. The use of SSRIs for the treatment of depression, combined with drug abuse, doubled the risk of NAS.

Arriving in the world with drug withdrawal symptoms is a heartbreaking situation. Educating pregnant women – and indeed all women – about the dangers of drug use during pregnancy and the effects on their child must be a priority. A developing fetus is dependent upon its mother to get a healthy start in life.

If you would like further information about drug use during pregnancy or drug addiction in general, please call the Kansas City Drug Treatment Rehab Center at any time.

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