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Newborns Addicted To Pain Pills

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COLUMBUS, Ohio. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, with more than seven million people abusing them and death rates tripling from their abuse in the last decade. But it's not just adults we need to be concerned with. The 80's epidemic of crack babies is being replaced by something even easier to get your hands on.

"I fell off of a horse and hurt my back and was introduced to oxycodone," Molly, a woman who was addicted to oxycodone while pregnant, told Ivanhoe.

That was the beginning of a long six-year battle with the prescription painkiller for 29-year-old "Molly" who asked us to conceal her identity.

It ended with the birth of her baby "Nikki."

"I was taking like maybe 20 a day," Molly said.

Desperate for the euphoric feeling of oxy's she began to steal to fuel her addiction.

"They take over your life. It's insane like this little pain pill will change you it just makes you don't care about anything but yourself," Molly explained.

About a year ago she went to rehab, but the pain of withdrawal proved too much and she was soon taking the pills again. Then she found out she was pregnant. Molly is among a growing number of mothers addicted to prescription painkillers like oxycodone, oxycontin and vicodin. It's a trend doctors said is reminiscent of the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80's and 90's.

"Opiate addicted babies are really having a full withdrawal just like any narcotic addicted person," Dr. Jonathan Wispe, a neonatologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio told Ivanhoe.

Known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), there are no national statistics to show how widespread the problem is, but states with the worst problems have begun to collect data.

"It crosses all spectrums. Stay at home moms, professionals, teachers, nurses, doctors," Michelle Waddell, Director of neonatal services at the Children's Hospital of SW Florida told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Wispe has seen a 300 percent increase in his cases since 2004.

"It's a terrible problem. It's complex and it's going to be hard to beat," Wispe explained.

Neonatal nurse Michelle Waddell has a similar story at her hospital, where she's seen a 700 percent increase in NAS babies in the last five years.

"In all my years of NICU nursing, it's probably one of the most painful things that I've had to sit back and watch," Waddell explained.

NAS babies experience withdrawal a few days after being born, just like an adult would who quits drugs cold turkey.

"They sweat all the time, their heart is racing all the time but first and foremost they just seem to be miserable," Wispe said.

The baby can also have seizures and risks sudden death. Compounding the problem, pregnant women addicted to prescription meds can't safely go off of them without medical supervision or they could miscarry. Molly got treatment two months before her daughter was born.

"I'm still a little nervous. She's 6 months old and she doesn't roll over. She doesn't laugh," Molly concluded.

It could be years, even decades before we know the long-term impact for "Nikki" and thousands of babies like her. Doctors say the treatment for drug withdrawal in newborns can take a couple of days to a few weeks driving the cost of their medical care into the tens of thousands of dollars. NAS is so new, no one knows yet what the long-term impacts of the syndrome will be.

RESEARCH SUMMARY

BACKGROUND:  Neonatal withdrawal syndrome or neonatal abstinence syndrome is when a group of problems occur in a newborn that was exposed to drug abuse in the womb. (Source: nlm.nih.gov)  There are two types of neonatal abstinence syndrome:  neonatal abstinence syndrome due to prenatal or maternal use of substances that result in withdrawal symptoms in the newborn and postnatal neonatal abstinence syndrome secondary to discontinuation of medications such as fentanyl or morphine used for pain therapy in the newborn.  Neonatal abstinence syndrome mostly occurs when the mother takes addictive illicit or prescription drugs.  About three percent of the 4.1 million of women able to bear a child who abuse drugs are believed to continue drug abuse during pregnancy (Source: emedicine.medscape.com).

EXAMPLES OF DRUGS ASSOCIATED WITH NEONATAL ABSTINENCE SYNDROME:

  • Opiates and Narcotics: Codeine, Heroin, Oxycodone, Morphine, Buprenorphine, Fentanyl, Chlordiazepoxide, , Methadone, Meperidine (Demerol), Pentazocine, Butorphanol (Stadol), or Hydromorphone (Dilaudid).
  • Other Drugs:  Barbiturates, Diazepam and lorazepam, Caffeine, Cocaine, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Antihistaminics (Diphenhydramine, Hydroxyzine), Marijuana, Ethchlorvynol, Nicotine, or Meprobamate (Source:  emedicine.medscape.com).

SYMPTOMS OF NEONATAL ABSTINENCE SYNDROME:  Symptoms depend on the specific drug the mother used during pregnancy, the amount of drug used, whether the baby was born premature or full-term, and how long the drug was used.  Some symptoms can occur one to three days after birth or five to10 days and they include: diarrhea, blotchy skin coloring, vomiting, seizures, excessive crying, sweating, trembling, sleep problems, sneezing (stuffy nose), irritability, or poor feeding (Source: nlm.nih.gov). 

EXAMS AND TESTS:  It is important to get the baby tested because many other things could be the cause of such symptoms.  Tests that may be done include:  Neonatal abstinence syndrome scoring system, which assigns points based on each symptom and can help determine treatment, urine test (urinalysis), and toxicology screen of first bowel movements (Source: nlm.nih.gov). 

TREATMENT:  Treatment depends on the baby's overall health and symptoms.  Babies are usually watched for vomiting and dehydrating and sometimes receive fluids through a vein.  Some need medicine for withdrawal; Benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal and Methadone for heroin and other opiate withdrawal.  Some doctors prescribe the baby whatever drug they were born addicted to and slowly wean the baby off by lowering dose.  Babies who experience feeding problems need high calorie formula that provides more nutrition and smaller portions more often.  Treatment relieves symptoms but how well the baby does depends partially on whether the mother continues to abuse drugs (Source: nlm.nih.gov). 

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Nationwide Children's Hospital
Marketing & Public Relations
(614)355-0495

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