Newborn Withdrawal from Opiates

Newborn Withdrawal from OpiatesWith the increase in opiate prescriptions over the last decade, it’s a given that many become addicted to what their doctors prescribe. Add to that an overall increase in those who find their opiates on the street, and you may get an idea of the scope of this serious problem. But alongside those moms-to-be facing their own addiction, there is another casualty that goes unnoticed by the general public – babies born addicted.This trend is putting a strain on health care system, according to Dr. David Chaffin, fetal medicine specialist at Marshall University Medical Center in an interview with the NBC’s Today show.

Called neonatal abstinence syndrome, babies born of addicted mothers get high when Mom does, then at birth suffer withdrawal symptoms which include shaking, tremors, sleep difficulties, fever, sweating and irritability. They cry uncontrollably. They suffer pain, vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes seizures. Basically, the infants endure the same dreaded symptoms that keep many an addict using, only for their tiny bodies, the symptoms are so much worse. Not exactly the soothing welcome to life we would hope for our children…

It may be surprising to learn that physicians who are aware of a mother’s opiate addiction – if they agree to see her at all – often urge women addicted for an extensive period of time to continue using while pregnant to avoid “cold turkey” withdrawal that may increase the risk of miscarriage or pre-term birth. Instead, methadone treatment may be advised – to quell withdrawal and also to keep gestating women away from a relapse with street drugs.

“It’s a complex problem that’s going to take a complex solution,” said Dr. Stephen Patrick, who led a 2012 study published by the American Medical Association while at the University of Michigan, according to a Star News Online article. Part of the problem is that in some states there is pressure to keep hospital stays as brief as possible, which has led some women with serious, untreated opiate addictions to be sent home with bottles of liquid narcotics to treat their infant’s withdrawal symptoms themselves – dangerous to both the addicted moms and their babies.

Without much study to determine long term outcomes, the problem is one that needs to be addressed. Many female addicts are reluctant to open up to their doctors about their addiction for fear of being stigmatized and having child protective services involved. The withdrawal symptoms may take a few days to surface, so many of these babies are discovered when the infant is taken in for treatment of those withdrawal symptoms.

Since the prescription drug abuse epidemic has brought to light the plight of these children, appropriate treatment practices need to be evaluated and implemented to combat this tragic problem.If you are, or know an expecting addict, don’t let fear prevent you from getting the help you need. Call a professional to see what options you and your unborn child may have. There is hope.

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