For over a year, the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital has been dealing with the unfortunate increase in the number of newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is the withdrawal process that a newborn baby must suffer through after in utero exposure to certain medications. The most common problem in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is premature babies or babies with respiratory distress, but many new nurses are taken aback by the amount of babies with NAS. Opioids, such as oxycodone seem to be the worst culprit affecting these newborns. Infants with this condition cry constantly and are easily agitated. Many cannot be near sound or light.
Some other symptoms that these babies suffer from may consist of a distinct, high-pitched cry, tightening of the muscles as well as seizures. Addiction occurs when narcotics pass through the placenta to the baby during pregnancy. Withdrawal is most likely to take place once the baby is born and loses access to the drugs. In fact, as stated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated 55 to 94 percent of newborns that have been exposed to opioids before birth show signs of withdrawal.
Treatment Includes More Drugs
Up until recently, babies suffering from NAS were treated by stabilizing them on methadone and then discharging them for outpatient treatment. Today, the babies are treated with morphine, which is administered every three hours along with feedings. The doses are gradually decreased over a period of several weeks in order to wean the babies off of the drugs. Because of this new procedure, the average hospital stay for these babies has been shortened by several days, which is now around 24 days.
This epidemic is particularly common in Tennessee. A recent health department survey discovered that nearly a third of pregnant women in state treatment programs are addicted to prescription painkillers. Because of this, the number of babies born with NAS doubled from 2010 to 2011. In response to this, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital created a wing designated for the care of babies born with NAS. It consists of private rooms, which are darker and easier to control for the huge inflow of newborns suffering from drug withdrawals. The hospital has also trained volunteers, who they refer to as “cuddlers”, to comfort and hold the babies.
Infants Aren’t The Only Children Affected
In July, the parents of a 17-month-old child were charged with homicide-aggravated manslaughter of a child. This decision was made after the toxicology results reported that the baby had oxycodone in his blood at the time of his death.
Authorities affirm that the child had access to oxycodone and other pills that were used by the parents.
It has been shown that an increasing number of babies born in Florida are exposed to drugs while in the womb. Thousands of babies born in Florida since 2004 have been diagnosed with symptoms of drug withdrawal or narcotic exposure. The state’s solution is to get parents who are abusing drugs into drug treatment facilities and preserve families rather than taking their children away from them, which seems to be a good start.
However Narconon reviews on the subject indicate that a parent using drugs around a child or a pregnant mother using drugs is one of the most horrific forms of child abuse going on in our country right now. Children need to be brought up in stable environments free of drugs and excessive alcohol use. It is up to us as a community, enforcement and the family unit to ensure that this happens and not tolerate drug use around children or in general.
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