Over the last number of years, headlines repeatedly tell the story of the latest drug plague across the country. Narcotic prescription painkillers are being abused more than ever. Everyone from teenagers to adults is experimenting with painkillers whether they’re legally prescribed or not. Even junkies want cheap highs as the number of individuals falling into the hands of abuse grows every day.
The statistics illustrate the seriousness of the narcotic drug epidemic. From 2002 -2010 alone, the number of individuals who abused prescription painkillers increased by 75 percent. The increase for teens was 25 percent. For some narcotics, the numbers were even higher. Painkiller abuse isn’t picky about who it affects. It reaches far and wide across virtually every demographic; this includes pregnant women as well. Due to the rise in abuse, emergency rooms and doctors are witnessing a sad and alarming trend. In general, they’re seeing more and more babies being born with a narcotic addiction.
What is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?
What many doctors are unfortunately seeing in newborn infants is called NAS, or neonatal abstinence syndrome. This refers to a group of conditions that happen as a direct result of a baby being exposed to addictive narcotics while growing in the mother’s womb. Virtually any kind of addictive or illicit substance can produce NAS. Today, doctors are dealing with more and more cases caused by various narcotic painkillers including:
When a female is pregnant, everything she chooses to ingest goes through her placenta and inevitably affects the developing baby. The placenta’s job is to link the mother and the fetus so that the growing baby can receive nutrients. Therefore, if the mother uses a dangerous substance such as OxyContin, it too affects the infant through the placenta. Essentially, there is no actual filter that keeps dangerous drugs away from the baby. If the mother becomes addicted to the drug, so does the baby.
Through no fault of their own, these innocent babies come into the world already battling an addiction to drugs. Like any addiction, once they’re born and don’t have access to the drug any longer, they readily start to experience the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal. This may include a vast array of symptoms including the following:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Excessive crying, sometimes for hours
Because newborn infants are smaller and considerably more fragile than grown adults, they have a much greater risk of actually dying from withdrawal symptoms. While treatment is possible, the damage can be long-lasting and quite serious.
The Silent Addiction Continues
It’s inevitable that as addiction and abuse to prescription painkillers continues to rise across virtually every demographic, the unborn infants growing inside the addicted mothers are included. Across the US, medical communities continue to see a disturbing increase in the incidence of NAS due to widespread painkiller abuse. In some areas, doctors report increases of as much as 10 times over the last decade. In fact, some counties in Kentucky report a whopping increase of 330 percent regarding infants addicted to narcotics at birth. In West Virginia alone, hospitals claim as many as 1 out of every 13 babies being born is in fact addicted to narcotics.
One study done in Tennessee claims that in 2009 alone over 13,000 babies throughout the country were born with addictions to prescription medications. Several of the biggest increases in babies addicted to drugs are being seen across the Appalachian areas of Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Narcotic painkiller abuse is higher in those regions than virtually anywhere else in the US. Sadly, the babies are the ones paying the price.
NAS: Treatment and Prevention
Treating a small infant for drug addiction is very similar to treating an addicted adult in many ways. The infant is given very small amounts of the narcotic in order to help alleviate the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and to gradually wean it off the harmful substance. In more severe cases, sometimes morphine is actually used for this process. However, it has to be done in a very careful manner so no harm will come to the child. Even so, a baby can stop breathing due to the overwhelming effects of the withdrawal process.
While physicians treat the addicted infants, policymakers are working to prevent the epidemic. For example, in Florida where more than 1,500 infants are being born addicted to painkillers every year, the state’s attorney general is leading a public awareness campaign about the addiction epidemic. With various billboards across the state and an informative website, the campaign will hopefully educate all mothers concerning the toxic dangers of using narcotics while they’re pregnant.
Addiction is a serious problem for non-pregnant women, let alone mothers-to-be. If you’re a pregnant woman and finding it hard to turn away from the grip of prescription painkillers, you’re not alone. Help is available to you. Seek inpatient care as soon as possible, not only for yourself, but for the future of your unborn innocent child as well.