Upswing in Babies Born Addicted to Prescription Drugs

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According to a story in the USA Today, there has been a dramatic increase in newborn addiction. But not to illegal substances. These addictions are from mothers who take too many prescription pain pills.

Perhaps it’s the foreseeable result of the upward trend in popularity of Rx medications in the abusing community. Every cause, after all, has its associated effect. The fall in meth and cocaine use was balanced by a rise in prescription drug abuse and the number of newborns hooked on legal narcotics may simply reflect the trend.

Reliable nationwide statistics are not available because there is no federally mandated tracking. However, in some states the increase is known. In Florida, for instance, the number of “drug-exposed” newborns has tripled from 2006 to 2010 (from 354 to 1,374). Other states reporting an upswing are Maine and Tennessee.

Treatment for the infants is similar to withdrawal in adults, except that a newborn doesn’t have the resources for a prolonged battle. They may be given narcotics in small amounts to stave off the worst withdrawal symptoms and then slowly weaned until they are substance free.

Unfortunately, pregnant women who have become dependent on prescription narcotics cannot simply stop taking them later in pregnancy – since the fetus has already been exposed en utero, this might be enough to cause a miscarriage or premature birth. Pregnant women who are abusing narcotics have to let their obstetrician know the facts and follow their doctor’s advice.

One recommendation is to make drug screening an early part of prenatal care. The earlier the problem can be addressed, the better for both mother and child. In some cases, the mother can lower their dose gradually with no ill effects to the fetus. In other cases, doctors may start management with methadone or another replacement drug to stabilize the mother until the pregnancy is over. Even in the best case scenario, a healthy baby without short term medical problems, the long-term consequences aren’t known – they haven’t been well studied.

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