More Babies in Orange County Suffering From Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal
Neonatal abstinence syndrome occurs when an infant is born to a mother who is addicted to opioids, such as heroin or prescription painkillers like oxycodone.
These babies undergo the same tragic symptoms of opioid withdrawal as adults – they are agitated, have difficulty sleeping, may vomit, and even suffer from tremors. Fortunately, the best medicine for these babies comes in the form of love and affection.
Across the country, more and more hospitals are implementing programs that enlist volunteers to hold and cuddle babies born with this syndrome. They hold them in dark, quiet rooms, and administer massages until the opioids have fully withdrawn from their system.
This syndrome has been gaining more attention recently, due to the rapidly increasing prevalence of opioid dependence in the United States.
By some estimates, in 2015, almost 1% of all infants born in Orange county suffered from neonatal abstinence syndrome. That’s nearly 250 babies, up from 158 in 2014.
Also, rates have increased ten-fold in last ten years, and Orange County is now the 3rd most affected county in Florida, following Hillsborough and Duval.
Yesterday, physicians, nurses, social workers, and law enforcement gathered at Orange County’s 3rd annual Drug Abuse Summit to discuss opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome. The goal was to begin a community discussion about how to curb opioid addiction, especially among pregnant women before, during, and after pregnancy.
Dr. Stephen Patrick, assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and presenter:
“We have to focus on care across the continuum, Just reacting to it at the NICU is a little too late. We need to create healthy pregnant women to have healthy babies. This begins before pregnancy.”
One of Patrick’s studies revealed that the prevalence of neonatal abstinence syndrome increased 300% between 1999-2013 in 28 states, Florida included.
And the latest data reveals that more than 400,000 babies are exposed to harmful substances in the womb, such as drugs and alcohol. Also, the opioid epidemic has been gradually affecting more and more infants, as they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms just hours after they are born.
Hospital care costs for these infants now totals more than $1.5 billion, as they require longer hospital stays and often have other complications, mainly symptoms of opioid withdrawal, that need additional medical attention.
The good news is, however, research has not found long-term side effects due to opioid exposure in utero. While opioid misuse can result in stillborn infants and premature births, infants who do in fact survive often go on to be healthy children, assuming their home environment is safe and stable.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A, Psychology