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Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome & the Latest Opioid Epidemic

effects of drugs during pregnancy

Did you know that, in the United States, 20 percent of women aged 15 to 44 are prescribed an opioid drug? Or that nearly 15 percent of expectant mothers are prescribed painkillers during their pregnancy?

Opioids, also known as opiates or painkillers, are highly-addictive prescription pills that are commonly used to treat pain. Under brand names like OxyContin, Vicodin, or Percocet, these drugs are seemingly harmless to the average user. They are prescribed legally by a doctor and therefore perceived as safe.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. A direct relative of the street drug heroin, opioids are of the most dangerous and widely abused substances today. In 2014, these painkilling prescription drugs were responsible for an estimated 18,893 overdose deaths in the United States. According to the CDC, more than 18 women die of prescription opiate overdose each day. And for every one woman that fatally overdoses, 30 women are hospitalized for opioid abuse.

Women are more likely than men to experience chronic pain. For this reason, they are more likely to be prescribed prescription opioids, be given higher doses, and use them for longer periods of time than men. They are also quicker to develop a chronic opioid addiction and regular drug-using habits.

The effects of the opiate epidemic in our country continue to unfold, as many of us are now meeting its youngest victims. We are no longer talking about the young women who have become dependent on opioids. We are talking about their children, about infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 13,500 babies are born with opioid withdrawal symptoms each year. Every 25 minutes, a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome is born.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a drug withdrawal syndrome that occurs in newborns who have been exposed to drugs while in the womb. Similar to post-acute withdrawal syndrome, NAS causes an array of physical symptoms in its victims. NAS babies have trouble feeding and sleeping and may experience seizures, nausea, trembling, fevers, and pain. Depending on the severity of symptoms, NAS babies can be kept hospitalized for up to twenty days. Their condition is then reported to the DCF.

Almost every addictive substance – whether an illicit drug, alcoholic drink, prescription medication – can harm an unborn child. When drugs are consumed during pregnancy, they are passed from a mother’s bloodstream, through her placenta, to her unborn baby.

While the leading cause of NAS is the maternal use of opiates during pregnancy, there are many drugs that can cause withdrawal symptoms in babies. These include:

  • Vicodin
  • Kadian
  • Avinza
  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Sleeping pills such as Xanax
  • Antidepressants
  • Amphetamines
  • Alcohol
  • Heroin
  • Methadone

Specific drugs can cause specific problems in the baby. For example, heroin and other related opiates can cause NAS symptoms to last as long as 4 to 6 months. Amphetamines can cause premature births and low birth weights in newborns. Use of cocaine during pregnancy can cause poor growth or developmental delay, as well as learning disabilities for children. Alcohol can also slow a baby’s growth both in the womb and after birth. Drinking during pregnancy can also cause certain problems of heart defects and mental challenges for the baby.

If you or someone you know is pregnant and using drugs, it is crucial to act immediately. She and her child may be at risk of a series of health problems down the road. If you or someone you know is dependent on opioid drugs, even if she is not pregnant, it is important to find professional help and understand that neonatal abstinence syndrome is still a risk.

You see, most pregnancies are unplanned and are not recognized for weeks. This means that someone who is dependent on opioids may not know that she has a baby at risk. Even if she stops drug use upon discovery, her continued drug use can have a severe impact on her child. This is because the first weeks of pregnancy are a critical period for a baby’s organ formation. And the development of neonatal abstinence syndrome and birth defects typically occurs during these first few weeks.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome can affect any woman from any walk of life. Even if she takes a legal opioid exactly as her provider advises, she still poses the risk for NAS. Fortunately, NAS is preventable.

If you are pregnant and battling drug addiction: Talk to your healthcare provider right away about your options. As soon as you learn you are pregnant, establish a plan to stop drug use under professional care. Quitting suddenly, on your own, or “cold turkey” can cause severe problems for your baby. The right addiction treatment center can get you and your baby’s health back on track.

If you are pregnant and taking prescription drugs:  Talk to both your doctor and your prenatal care provider about any medicine you take. Ask if your specific medications can cause NAS in your baby, and if there are alternatives. You may need to stop taking certain prescriptions for the safety of your child.

If you are not pregnant and using drugs: Use birth control until you are fully recovered and ready to raise a child. If you are thinking about becoming pregnant and want to quit drugs, contact a women’s recovery center that can help you start a treatment plan.

Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 today.