The number of babies who are born addicted to opioids has tripled in just 15 years in our country. It’s a shocking statistic that underscores just how far opioid addiction reaches. In 1999, 1.5 babies in every 1,000 births were born addicted to opioids and placed into a withdrawal program immediately. A new CDC report shows that the number had risen dramatically to 6 babies per 1,000 births by 2013.
Some areas of the country have been particularly hard hit. In West Virginia, for example, just 0.5 cases of opiate addiction were noted per 1,000 births in 1999. In 2013, however, the number had skyrocketed to 33.4. Maine and Vermont have also recorded similarly disturbing rises.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 78 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose, and this is being largely attributed to the rising numbers of people who take prescription painkillers.
Many cases going unreported
A law passed in 2003 requiring hospitals and social services to report and help drug-dependent newborns and their families has been largely ignored, with just nine states routinely following it. This means that the majority of the children who were born to addicted mothers were not being reported, and it is believed that medical workers were reluctant to involve child protective services.
Sadly, more than 110 babies have died under preventable circumstances since the year 2010, after being sent home with families who were not prepared to take care of them. This estimate is believed to be on the low end.
A new law put in place last month, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, assures a non-punitive approach that will allow newborns to remain with their parents while they receive extra help.
Opioid use rampant in America
Last year, a team of researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center discovered that some pregnant women who took opioid painkillers were prescribed the medication for no clear reason, placing their babies at unnecessary risk. Withdrawal symptoms experienced by these drug-dependent babies include fever, low weight, sweating, vomiting and excessive crying.
Their study of more than 112,000 pregnant women on Medicaid found that 28 percent had been prescribed at least one opioid painkiller at some point in their pregnancy.
They also found that the infant’s risk was influenced by factors such as the type of prescription opioid, the length of use, the number of cigarettes the mother smoked, and if they took SSRI antidepressants at the same time.
The lead researcher, Dr. Stephen W. Patrick, said that the low birth weight noted in opioid-addicted babies posed even more long-term health risks than being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Americans consume around 81 percent of the world’s supply of oxycodone, and it’s estimated that as many as four out of every five heroin users started out by taking opioid painkillers. The CDC recently stepped in and released 12 guidelines to advise doctors on responsible opioid prescription practices. CDC Director Thomas Frieden said at the time: “We know of no other medication routinely used for a nonfatal condition that kills patients so frequently.”
Drug manufacturers worked hard to try to prevent the CDC from releasing the new guidelines, but they only managed to delay them. There is a lot of money at stake here, with a Stanford University report showing that the sales of prescription opioids have climbed by more than 300 percent since 1999 – the same rise as that noted in the number of babies born addicted to these drugs.
Pregnant women who are dealing with pain should do everything in their power to avoid taking opioid painkillers. If your doctor prescribes this drug to you and tries to minimize the risks, be firm and ask if there are any non-opioid alternatives you can take. You can also try to manage some types of pain using natural methods such as meditation and yoga. Besides avoiding dangerous medications, pregnant women should also eat a healthy diet and ensure that their home has clean air to help give their baby a healthy start to life.