The Increase of Drug Dependent Infants
As heroin addiction increases across the United States, dependency on other opioids is also growing. Those are prescription medications like morphine, Vicodin, OxyContin, codeine, and other similar drugs. With pregnant addicts, the drugs pass through the placenta, and the baby becomes an opioid addict like its mother. Because of the proliferation of these opioids, a frighteningly increasing number of drug dependent infants are thrown into addiction before they take their first breath.
Vanderbilt University researchers found that the number of drug dependent infants has almost doubled in the last four years. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the number of newborns transferred directly to neonatal intensive care units has risen by nearly 400 percent. Hospitalizations for drug addicted newborns in Kentucky skyrocketed by over 48 percent between 2013 and 2014.
Once the cord is cut, the baby isn’t getting its drug anymore, and the drug addicted baby is forced into withdrawal and neonatal abstinence syndrome. This usually begins 24 to 72 hours after birth. Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to incessant high pitched crying, poor feeding, diarrhea, fever, tight muscles, seizures, and vomiting. The treatment objective is to wean the baby off of opioids by giving it decreasing doses of morphine over time. This requires close attention and monitoring by the hospital’s staff. Just enough medication is provided so that the baby can eat, sleep, and interact. A 2012 study by the Journal of Perinatology revealed that the annual cost of care for drug dependent infants is $1.8 billion, 80 percent of which is paid for by Medicaid. On a national average, it costs about $4,300 to deliver a normal baby, but $63,000 to deliver a drug dependent baby. Then it costs about $93,000 per baby on the average to wean them off of opioids. It takes anywhere from 16 to 31 days in a hospital to do that.
Drug dependent infants might be at a higher risk for medical, developmental, and behavioral issues arising as they grow older. Research into long-term effects is difficult though due to variables like the mother’s continued drug use, residential environment, adequate care, and nutrition. Studies seem to go both ways. Some show cognitive impairment, behavioral problems, and lower IQ. Others show no clinically significant differences. Environment appears to be a pivotal factor.
Social service agencies are trying to keep up with the demand for services during this explosion of drug dependent infants being born. Specific and detailed guidelines need to be implemented to monitor and address any long-term needs of infants who were born drug dependent. Their mothers must also be monitored to assure that the babies are receiving proper care and treatment.