Addicted in the Womb: Infant Withdrawal on Rise

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The explosion of prescription drug abuse has taken a shocking new turn: Innocent babies are now experiencing the excruciating withdrawal symptoms.

This phenomenon was discovered by Dr. Stephen W. Patrick and his associates at the University of Michigan Health System and is detailed in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

Abuse of prescription drugs, including pain killers like Oxycodone and Vicodin, has quadrupled in the last decade. Abusers have great difficultly quitting their painkiller habit because these drugs are enormously addictive and withdrawal is very unpleasant. 

Abusers will do anything to get them. Last year police say a man who was high on pain killers robbed a New York pharmacy and killed four people in the process. He took every single painkiller in the drugstore, nothing else. Addicts will pay any price to get their fix.

Police say a single pill can sell on the street for as much as $80. Police are also warning people to lock-up their pain killers or properly dispose of them because of the increasing incidence of "medicine cabinet robberies" by family members or visitors to the home.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Sadly, even addicts who become pregnant often keep abusing opiates, which include illegal drugs like heroin. As a result, their babies become addicts in the womb.

That means when they are born, the tiny infants must suffer through withdrawal. It's called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

"Common symptoms that babies exhibit after they're born are irritability, difficulty feeding, difficulty breathing," Patrick explained.

"We also know that babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome are more likely to be born with low birth weight," he said.

Patrick and his team reviewed the billing record of hospitals nationwide for 10 years. They discovered the number of addicted mothers at the time of delivery increased five-fold during that time.

He also noted that caring for these special cases is expensive.

"Overall these babies then have to have more complex and more costly hospital stays on average than all other hospital births," he said.

Taxpayers are largely footing the bill. Four out of five of these babies are enrolled in the state Medicaid programs across the country.

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.