MONDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- About one baby an hour is
born addicted to powerful painkillers called opiates in the United
States, a new study shows.
The number of infants born with a drug withdrawal syndrome
called neonatal abstinence syndrome tripled between 2000 and 2009,
jumping to more than 13,000, according to a study published online
April 30 in the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
At the same time, use of prescription painkillers such as
oxycodone (OxyContin) by mothers-to-be increased fivefold, the
"This is becoming a big problem and affecting newborns at an alarmingly high and increasing rate," said study author Dr. Stephen W. Patrick, a fellow in the University of Michigan's division of neonatal-perinatal medicine in Ann Arbor.
Babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome tend to be irritable,
have heightened muscle tone (hypertonia), tremors, feeding
intolerance, seizures and breathing difficulty. They also are more
likely than others to be born at a low birth weight. Although other
drugs can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome, prescription
painkillers are the usual cause, the study said.
The syndrome was most common among babies born in poor areas and
covered by Medicaid, the researchers said.
For the study, researchers looked at national hospital discharge
data for the years 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009.
In 2009, they found that 13,539 newborns were born with neonatal
abstinence syndrome. The rate had jumped threefold -- from 1.20 per
1,000 hospital births in 2000 to 3.39 per 1,000 hospital
About 16 percent of pregnant teens and 7 percent of pregnant
women aged 18 to 25 use illicit drugs, according to information
cited in the report. Whereas opioid use was established in 1.19 of
every 1,000 hospital births in 2000, it was implicated in 5.63 of
every 1,000 hospital births by 2009, this study found.
The hospital stay for these drug-exposed newborns averaged 16
days, and the cost increased 35 percent -- from $39,400 in 2000 to
$53,400 in 2009.
The financial piece provides "added incentive to bolster
programs at state levels and prevent this before it happens,"
"We also need to think about how we can care for these babies who are going through withdrawal, minimize their symptoms and get them home quicker," he added.
Journal publication of the study is slated to coincide with its
presentation Monday at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual
meeting in Boston.
Dr. Marie J. Hayes, a professor at the University of Maine in
Orono and co-author of an accompanying journal editorial, said the
race is on to find ways to treat and care for these infants. "This
is not only an epidemic that continues to grow, but the treatment
is not well-developed and the babies are suffering a lot," she
said. "There may also be long-term consequences to brain
Opioids are highly addictive, she said. "Once dependent, people
are dependent for a long time. It is difficult to treat," she said.
"The mothers are the environment for the baby, so if we want to
protect the baby, we have to go through mothers."
Another expert said the the study speaks to the prevalence of
prescription drug abuse and the need for prevention.
Christopher Sturiano, an assistant professor of public health at
Weill Cornell Medical College and administrative director of
Midtown Center for Treatment and Research in New York City, said he
often sees the mothers during their postpartum period. But "we need
to identify and try to prevent this before or during pregnancy as
opposed to after the fact," he said.
There are options. "We can tailor opiate replacement therapies
to pregnant women to protect the baby," Sturiano said.
Get the facts on
prescription drug abuse from the U.S. Food and
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