Tag Archives: neonatal abstinence syndrome

Number of Pregnant Opioid Addicts Surged Over Last 15 Years

The results from a new report released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shed light on the continued effects of the opioid epidemic on a specific portion of the population: pregnant women. The researchers found that the number of women living with opioid use disorder at the time they went into labor and delivered their babies “more than quadrupled” during the 15-year period between 1999-2014.

Opioid Addiction Leads to Other Health Issues

Opioid addiction is responsible for a number of health problems. It can take a toll on a user’s physical and mental health, as well as her personal relationships. According to statistics collected by the CDC, opioids (which include prescription pain medications and illicit drugs such as heroin) were responsible for taking the lives of more than 42,000 people in 2016, a record level for fatalities.

Opioid use at addiction levels during pregnancy has been linked to several negative health consequences for mothers and babies. The drug use can lead to preterm birth, stillbirth and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a term describing a group of conditions caused when a fetus goes through withdrawal from certain drugs before birth.

National Database Analyzed

Researchers analyzed a national database collected on women from 28 states and discovered the rate of opioid use disorder jumped from 1.5/1000 delivery hospitalizations in 1999 to 6.5/1000 delivery hospitalizations in 2014. The rate increased by 0.39 cases per 1,000 during each year of the study.

Some geographical differences were noted during the study. The average annual increases were highest in West Virginia, Vermont, New Mexico and Maine. They were lowest in Hawaii and California.

Wanda Barfield, MD, Rear Admiral, US Public Health Service (USPHS), and the Director of the Division of Reproductive Health, explained that even in states with the smallest increases year over year, more pregnant women with opioid use disorder are being seen in labor and delivery.

Strategies for Dealing with Opioid Addiction in Pregnancy

The report included strategies for states to take on the issue of opioid addiction in pregnancy.

• Ensure opioid prescribing is in line with the CDC’s current guidelines
• Intensify prescription drug monitoring programs.
• Institute a policy of substance use screening at the first prenatal visit.
• Make certain that pregnant women with opioid use disorder have access to MAT (medication assisted therapy) and other addiction treatment services.
• Provide mothers with opioid use disorder with postpartum care that includes substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, relapse prevention and family planning services.

Heroin Affecting Newborns in Record Numbers

One of the most dangerous things about heroin is that it can impede a mother’s instinct to protect her child. This is most evident in the number of children being born addicted to heroin. This addiction occurs when mothers continue to use the drug while pregnant, causing their babies to be born dependent on the opiate, and needing to go through excruciating withdrawal symptoms in their first days of life. The number of infants born addicted to opiates continues to rise, as the heroin epidemic rages on in rural and urban communities.

While this problem is occurring throughout the country, it appears that rural areas are seeing a higher percentage of these tragedies than in cities. This may be because there is less access to quality treatment in rural areas, or drug education is not as evolved as it is in the cities. According to a University of Michigan study, heroin addicted babies increased four times in cities, while rural areas reported an increase of seven times. The results were published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

One reason why it is so difficult for expectant mothers to cease heroin use when they find out they are pregnant is because of the painful withdrawal symptoms they have to go through. Heroin addicts who stop using the drug experience insomnia, body aches, vomiting, paranoia, anxiety, depression, flu-like symptoms and intense cravings. These symptoms are so extreme that many in the medical profession strongly advocate for medical assistance when it comes to withdrawing from heroin. And while these are extreme symptoms for an adult, they are even more intense for an infant. Medical staff has to monitor the child constantly and watch as the baby goes through a withdrawal that most adults avoid at all costs.

“In the worst-case scenario, some of these babies die, and there’s a higher rate of mortality in this population. Later in life, there may possibly be issues with attention, but more research is really needed to understand the long-term effects,” explained Dr. Nicole Villapiano of University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital. Most babies who are born addicted to heroin exhibit increased irritability, tremors, inability or lack of desire to consume food, seizures and respiratory distress.

However, there are very few treatments approved for opiate-addicted mothers because of the potential damage caused to the unborn child during withdrawal. Unfortunately, the most common treatment includes putting the mothers on buprenorphine or methadone – both of which are synthetic opioids and can still cause the baby to have to go through agony after birth.

Researchers hope that this study will not only educate people on the dangers of using heroin while pregnant, but will also shed a light on the necessity of increasing education and prevention efforts in rural areas of the country. It also expresses a need for better treatment methods for mothers so that their newborns do not have to go through withdrawal.