It seems the opioid epidemic is spreading its tentacles to every nook and corner of America, leaving many addicted and dead, sparing not even babies and newborns, the youngest victims of opioid addiction. Babies affected by neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) are special babies born to mothers who either had been doing drugs or were on methadone or any other medication-assisted treatment (MAT) during pregnancy to treat opioid addiction. They are special because they require more help, more medical attention and follow-up treatment than normal babies do.
In the womb, these babies are exposed to the same drugs that their mothers were using. And when the umbilical cord is cut, they have an increased risk of suffering from withdrawal pangs. It is misleading to think that these babies are addicted to drugs. That is rarely the case. Instead, the sudden lack of opioids causes the neurotransmitters in the brain of the infant to go haywire which causes the symptoms.
Signs of NAS
Usually, the signs of NAS are evident within 72 hours of birth but sometimes these could appear earlier or later, i.e., right after birth or a few weeks after delivery. NAS babies are generally cranky and irritable and cry for hours in a high-pitched relentless wail, once awake. The probability of their being underweight or being born with a birth defect is also high. In addition, at the time of delivery the baby could have fever, stuffy nose, sleeping and breathing problems, and blotchy skin.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), one NAS-affected baby is born every 25 minutes and the number of NAS babies has increased five-fold since 2000. Unfortunately, as the crisis has taken place at a rapid pace, medical research has failed to fight the battle effectively as there is no fixed standard for the treatment of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers. Dr. Lori Devlin, newborn specialist from University of Louisville has reiterated that, “It’s a national problem. There’s no gold-standard treatment.”
Is treating opioid-addicted pregnant mothers with methadone safe?
Some hospitals take the baby away from the mother as soon as it is born with NAS and are reluctant to allow the baby to be breast-fed; others start the newborn infant on medications immediately after birth, and even encourage the mother to breast feed the child. Research has indicated that this is more beneficial for babies and they are likely to get better sooner and have lesser requirement for follow-up treatment and longer hospital stays in case they are kept with their mothers in a concept called rooming-in.
The concept of providing medication like methadone to the newborn, even before he or she shows signs of withdrawal is also being recommended by many, who also advice sending home the child with more methadone, in case the need arises. According to Dr. Jennifer Hudson, such an approach makes sense. As the newborn was already exposed to the pain-relieving opioid for nine months, adding a few weeks more, and making the process of weaning gentle instead of sudden would not have any further impact on the baby’s brain development. According to her research, using methadone-based treatment can lower the hospital costs and length of stay considerably.
Use of any drug in the long run is bound to affect health in various ways. With regular use, the user develops tolerance for the drug, demanding a higher dose for insatiable cravings. Once the body and brain get accustomed to the drug intake, addiction can set in. It’s better to be mindful of the side effects of using any drug than suffering and finding it even harder to withdraw.
Sovereign Health empathizes with the people grappling with drug addiction and witnessing challenges in quitting the drug. Our customized treatment for drug addiction treats every individual as unique. If you or your loved one is battling drug addiction, call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with one of our representatives to know more about our drug addiction treatment programs in Texas and other parts of the country.
Get the latest news on program developments, behavioral health news and company announcements