Pregnant Moms' Narcotic Use Increasing

Babies born dependent on opiate drugs have tripled over nine years

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The use of opiate drugs among pregnant women has more than quadrupled from 2000 to 2009 - which has led to approximately one baby being born every hour with signs of drug withdrawal.

The rate of babies born in 2009 with neonatal abstinence syndrome is approximately three times the rate in 2000, and the increase has had even greater impact because of increased costs associated with the condition, according to a recent study.

"Ask a therapist about drug addition programs."

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a complex condition in newborns that includes a range of problems resulting from the baby's exposure to addictive drugs (illegal or prescription) taken by the mother during pregnancy.

Don't use opiate drugs while pregnant.

Stephen Patrick, MD, of the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, and colleagues analyzed cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome and the rate of opiate drug use among mothers from 2000 to 2009.

Their goals also included gaining a sense of how much money is spent related to neonatal abstinence syndrome during that time period.

Patrick's team used the Kids' Inpatient Database to get data on the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and they used the Nationwide Inpatient Sample to gather data on the number of mothers using opiates while pregnant.

They found that newborns with a diagnosis of neonatal abstinence syndrome increased from 1.2 to 3.39 per 1,000 hospital births each year from 2000 to 2009.

Meanwhile, the number of mothers who were using opiates or were dependent on them when they gave birth jumped from 1.19 to 5.63 per 1,000 annual hospital births

Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can appear any time from a day to almost two weeks after birth, can be extensive: blotchy skin, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, rapid breathing, sweating and trembling.

More chronic issues seen in children with neonatal abstinence syndrome include irritability or excessive crying, sleeping problems, difficulty feeding, slow weight gain and hyperactive reflexes.

In this study, the authors found that babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome were 31 percent more likely to have breathing problems and 19 percent more likely to have a low birthweight. They were also about 18 percent more likely to have problems with feeding.

The authors also found that babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome were significantly more likely to come from low-income households and to be covered by Medicaid.

Patrick's team found costs associated with neonatal abstinence syndrome have climbed during those 9 years as well. In 2000, typical charges at a hospital for a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome were $39,400. That number was $53,400 in 2009.

Because of the increase in babies diagnosed with the condition, however, those cost increases translated into $720 million a year (adjusted for inflation) in 2009, up almost four times as much as the $190 million spent annually in 2000.

"Newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome experience longer, often medically complex and costly initial hospitalizations," the authors write.

They said these study results call for greater public health measures to address the problem of babies' exposure to these drugs in uteri.

"States are poised to seek innovative solutions to decreasing the burden of neonatal abstinence syndrome because the majority of hospital expenditures for this condition are shouldered by state Medicaid programs," they wrote.

The types of drugs that can cause a child to be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome include amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, marijuana and narcotics. This study focused on the last class of drugs, narcotics, which includes opiates like heroin, methadone and codeine.

The study appeared April 30 online in JAMA and was presented the same day at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston. The research was funded by the a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program, and no conflicts of interest were reported by the authors.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 30, 2012
Last Updated:
April 30, 2012