Another Growing Epidemic: Newborns Addicted to Painkillers

USA Today is reporting that the number of babies born addicted to prescription drug painkillers is on the rise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified America’s fast-growing problem of prescription drug abuse an epidemic. This problem is also affecting our newborn babies, as women abuse powerful narcotics, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, while pregnant.

While reporting by hospitals isn’t consistent, the number of addicted newborns seems to have doubled, tripled or more over the past decade.

The problem has become so severe that the American Academy of Pediatrics has convened a committee to revise its treatment guidelines for the babies. The committee will publish these new guidelines next year.

Maine is no stranger to painkiller addiction. It’s no surprise that Maine Medical Center, Mercy Recovery Center and Eastern Maine Medical Center were used as examples of the problem in the article:

  • According to Geri Tamborelli, nursing director at the Family Birth Center and neonatal intensive care unit, Maine Medical Center in Portland treated 121 babies dependent on prescription painkillers in 2010, up from 18 in 2001
  • According to Mark Publicker, an addiction medicine specialist at Mercy Hospital Recovery Center in Portland, the number of pregnant women with addictions to narcotic painkillers has grown so rapidly that Mercy developed a specialized treatment program for them
  • According to Jay Hagerty, a neonatologist at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, doctors screen every pregnant woman for opiate abuse because they “feel that the incidence is high enough that it’s a reasonable screening test”

Why don’t these pregnant women just quit taking the drugs? The problem is that quitting these powerful painkillers “cold turkey” can be more harmful to mother and baby than easing off the drugs slowly. The result could be miscarriage, and the withdrawal for the mother is extremely difficult and painful. The other problem is that many women fear that their children will be taken away from them by government social workers, and so hide their prescription drug problem from their obstetricians.

More needs to be known about the treatment and effects of babies exposed to prescription painkillers. And more screening and intervention needs to be made early on to help the addicted pregnant women find treatment.

Read the full USA Today article