It’s commonly known that If a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy, her baby can be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. What is less commonly known is that when a pregnant woman uses illegal or legal opiate-based drugs such as oxycodone, heroin or codeine her baby can also be severely affected. After a baby is born s/he is no longer getting these drugs through the placenta, so they can have withdrawal symptoms such as excessive crying, fever, diarrhea, vomiting and crankiness. These withdrawal symptoms are known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and a recent study shows that the number of babies born with NAS almost doubled between 2009 and 2012. In fact, a baby is born with NAS every 25 minutes.
There has been a dramatic increase in the prescription of opioid painkillers in the last few years and studies are showing that there appears to be a direct correlation between the rise in NAS and the rise in pain killer prescriptions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that approximately 259 million prescriptions for painkillers were written in 2012. This is equivalent to one bottle for every adult in the US. The rise in NAS mirrors increases of opiate prescriptions in certain geographic locations. For example, researchers found that Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama had the highest incidence of NAS and these areas also have the highest rates of painkiller prescriptions per person. In addition, researchers found a significant increase in health care expenses for NAS rising from $731 million in 2009 to $1.5 billion in 2012. Said in another way, for every $1 spent on pain killers, $50 is spent on care for infants suffering from drug withdrawal and NAS.
What all of this research points to is a need to review healthcare policies and best practices as well as how and why pain killers are prescribed.