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How Many Babies Are Born With a Drug Addiction Each Year?

Updated information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 1999 and 2017, more than 700,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States. About 68 percent of those deaths were caused by opioid overdoses, from prescription opioids to heroin and fentanyl, but many of them also involved meth, cocaine, marijuana, hallucinogens, sedative-hypnotics, and other addictive substances.

The CDC calculates deaths involving alcohol separately. There were 21,815 deaths from alcohol-related liver disease in 2016 and 34,865 additional deaths involving alcohol, excluding those from accidents or homicides. Pregnant women were among these numbers.

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, and What Drugs Cause This Condition?

Women who abuse substances while pregnant may trigger a miscarriage, give birth prematurely, or cause birth defects in their children. It is important to follow your doctor’s advice regarding healthy eating, exercise, and substances to avoid while pregnant.

Alcohol and tobacco should be avoided. If you have trouble with quitting these substances, get help from your physician. Alcohol abuse may require detox and rehabilitation, and this requires medical supervision.

Babies who are born dependent on substances may have the following symptoms from birth to 14 days old:

  • Blotchy or mottled skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Poor feeding
  • Excessive, high-pitched crying and cannot be comforted
  • Abnormal sucking reflex
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sleep problems
  • Slow weight gain
  • Congestion or stuffy sinuses
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting
  • Convulsions

As the opioid epidemic grows larger, more pregnant women in the United States struggle with these drugs, and their children are born dependent on them. While many children are born after their mothers abuse alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs, a rapidly rising number of babies are born dependent on opioid drugs. They experience neonatal abstinence syndrome, during which their bodies withdraw from opioids. In such small children, the process of opioid withdrawal can be life-threatening, so careful monitoring after birth is required.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), as of 2015, a baby is born dependent on opioids and undergoing neonatal abstinence syndrome every 25 minutes in the U.S. Since 2000, an estimated 21,732 babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This represented a fivefold increase in opioid-dependent births. Between 1999 and 2013, about 6 out of every 1,000 newborns struggled with NAS.

What Are the Regional Differences in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

While anyone in the United States can struggle with an addiction to opioids, alcohol, or other substances, rural areas tend to be hit harder by the opioid crisis than larger cities. Rural infants and their mothers who struggle with opioid dependence tend to be from low-income households, have insurance like Medicaid or another form of public assistance, and are often transferred to a different hospital after delivery.

More children are born in cities, simply due to population differences; however, rural babies are currently more likely to be born dependent on opioids compared to their urban counterparts.

According to a study, from 2004 to 2013, the incidence of NAS increased from 1.2 out of every 1,000 births to 7.5 out of every 1,000 births. Urban areas rose from 1.4 out of every 1,000 births to 4.8 out of every 1,000 births. 

What Happens to Children and Families After Drug Dependence?

When an infant is born dependent on substances, leading to neonatal abstinence syndrome, they will remain in the hospital for longer than children who are not dependent on substances. Their withdrawal symptoms may need to be treated with medications, but physicians will also monitor the babies and treat them without drugs if possible. 

The most common medical intervention for opioid NAS is morphine in very small doses, with the goal being to slowly taper the child off opioid dependence and help them sleep, eat, and interact in a more normal way.

Children who are born to parents addicted to drugs or alcohol are at risk of abuse and neglect in their homes. Low-income and high-stress families tend to have higher rates of substance abuse and mental illness that lead to poor environmental conditions.

These babies are more likely to suffer behavioral, developmental, emotional, and physical problems as they grow. These issues are due to conditions that began in the womb, family history and genetic problems, poor nutrition, and less access to education and social support.

When parents can get drug treatment, they can get other forms of assistance at the same time, including mental health treatment for co-occurring disorders. This brings greater stability to the whole family, improving outcomes for children and adults.

Sources

(December 19, 2018). Opioid Overdose: Understanding the Epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

(January 20, 2017). National Center for Health Statistics: Alcohol Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/alcohol.htm

Tobacco, Alcohol, and Substance Abuse. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.acog.org/About-ACOG/ACOG-Departments/Tobacco–Alcohol–and-Substance-Abuse?IsMobileSet=false

(July 2018). Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/substance-use-while-pregnant-breastfeeding

(September 2015). Dramatic Increase in Maternal Opioid Use and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/dramatic-increases-in-maternal-opioid-use-neonatal-abstinence-syndrome

(September 24, 2018). Are Some Babies Born Addicted? National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for Teens. Retrieved January 2019 from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/are-some-babies-born-addicted

(December 12, 2016). Rural and Urban Differences in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Maternal Opioid Use, 2004 to 2013. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics. Retrieved January 2019 from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2592302

(December 16, 2015). What Happens When a Baby is Born Addicted to Drugs? The Science Explorer. Retrieved January 2019 from http://thescienceexplorer.com/brain-and-body/what-happens-when-baby-born-addicted-drugs

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