By Steve Birr
Babies are born suffering from drug addiction withdrawals at a historic pace, increasing five-fold across the U.S. between 2003 and 2012.
The situation in individual states hit hard by opioid abuse is even worse and is causing a shortage in hospital space to treat infants born to addiction.
Roughly 15 in every 1,000 babies born in Kentucky enters the world dependent on opioids, requiring the newborns to be placed in neonatal intensive care units for weaning, reports The New York Times.
The increase in babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) increased by 224 percent between 2008 and 2015 in Arizona. Roughly 3.3 percent of babies born in Ohio are exposed to narcotics in the womb.
The crisis is creating a shortage in space in neonatal intensive care units and nurseries that the medical community is struggling to address. Newborn babies are often separated from their mother and transported to other medical centers, sometimes multiple ones, in order to treat their withdrawal. Experts say this is actually hindering the baby’s ability to recover.
“The model of care that’s being touted now is really that the mother is the first line of treatment for the baby,” Dr. Debra Bogen, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told The New York Times.
The strategy, dubbed “rooming-in,” allows the mother to spend time with the newborn, along with volunteer “cuddlers,” which is shown to help accelerate the baby’s recovery and reduce the need for morphine. This treatment reduces the infants’s average hospital stay from 17 to 12 days and reduces costs to care for an infant to hospitals from roughly $20,000 to $9,000.
Doctors are still unsure what the lifetime repercussions of NAS may be for the infants, but short-term symptoms include seizures, trouble feeding, excessive crying, diarrhea and rapid breathing.
The opioid scourge is also causing a spike in the number of babies and children removed from parental custody and placed in foster care.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch a baby go through withdrawal, and then give that baby back to Mom,” Deb McLaughlin, a foster parent to her grandchildren, told The Washington Post in June. “Because she did that to her.”
Drug addiction is now the second leading cause for removal from parental custody, following child neglect, which social workers note is often exacerbated by drug use in the home.
A staggering 85,937 children entered foster care due to parental drug use in the U.S. in 2015, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.
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