Newborn Opiate Addiction and Withdrawal

One of the saddest facts about prescription drug abuse is that a pregnant mother who abuses medicine will pass the effects to her unborn child. Unfortunately, it has become more and more common for newborn babies to be born addicted to prescription medications like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. The Los Angeles Times reports that in 2009, more than 13,500 infants were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS); this translates to approximately one such birth every hour.

In the U.S., one infant is born every hour addicted to opiate drugs

A recent New York Times article tells the story of one child that was only a few days old and had to be placed on methadone because his withdrawal symptoms were so severe. His mother abused OxyContin in the early stages of her pregnancy without her doctor’s knowledge. She tried to quit while pregnant but became so ill that the survival of her unborn child was in doubt. Her doctor prescribed methadone for the duration of her pregnancy. After his birth, her son was placed on the same drug.

Babies that are born addicted to pain killers cry excessively, get diarrhea, have stiff limbs and tremors and may refuse to eat and shake due to drug dependency and withdrawal. They are frequently treated with methadone, a drug that helps people deal with addiction to opiates, only to be weaned off of it later on. Treatment for a drug-addicted newborn can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

An increasing number of doctors are face with the difficult decision whether to continue to treat a pregnant woman who is addicted with opiate drugs, like Vicodin, or to just cut them off. Pregnant women who quit cold turkey face the risk of miscarriage and their babies may suffer seizures in utero. Doctor’s frequently must complete their own risk benefit analysis since few academic or scientific studies have been completed on newborn opiate withdrawal or the treatment of infants with methadone. There have also been few studies on the effects of a mother’s use of painkillers on her unborn child.

Methadone, a synthetic opioid drug, is used to assist people who are addicted to opiate drugs. According to the New York Times, it is the most commonly prescribed drug for opiate-addicted newborns because it helps to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. In addition to being treated with methadone, some infants who are born addicted are given morphine or Phenobarbital. The best treatment is of course to help mothers who abuse
drugs kick their habit before they become pregnant.

If you are struggling with opiate abuse (or are concerned about someone else who is), be sure to get more information from resources like the American Addiction Foundation website.//

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