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Rise in Drug-Dependent Newborns in Middle Tennessee

A tragic epidemic is sweeping its way throughout the United States. The number of infants being born dependent on drugs is on the rise, with Tennessee having some of the highest rates in the country. And contrary to what many may believe, the majority of these births are not occurring in populous cities.

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More About Drug Dependent Infants

Jessica Jaglois noted in an article written for WKRN that an “increasing number of newborns being born with drug withdrawal symptoms are in rural areas compared to births in urban areas.” This has intensified concern because individuals in rural communities often do not have the same access to treatment as people who are living in urban communities.

Opioid substances, such as heroin, buprenorphine, methadone, and prescription painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, and morphine have been the predominant substances which are impacting these newborns. Babies who are born dependent on opioid drugs will suffer through a period of withdrawal after their births which is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that neonatal abstinence syndrome can occur when a woman gives birth after having consumed opioid-based substances while pregnant. More specifically, they report that if “the mother continues to use the drugs within the week or so before delivery, the baby will be dependent on the drug at birth.”

When a pregnant woman ingests opioid substances, they will pass through the placenta, ultimately afflicting the baby’s system. Once the baby is born, he or she is no longer getting the drug, which causes him or her to go into a period of withdrawal.

Opioid Epidemic

Correlation Between Rising NAS Rates and Opioid Epidemic

The U.S. National Library of Medicine also explains that the symptoms of withdrawal typically appear within the first three days following birth, but can take up to a week. As such, these infants often must remain hospitalized in order to be monitored.

Unfortunately, opioids are not the only substances that can lead to infants experiencing withdrawal symptoms after birth. If pregnant women allow their babies to be exposed to benzodiazepines (like Xanax, Klonopin, or Ativan), barbiturates, alcohol, or certain antidepressants while in the womb, they, too, are at risk for going through a period of withdrawal once they are born.

On December 12, 2016, JAMA Pediatrics published an online article explaining the correlation between rising rates of NAS and the widespread abuse of opioids throughout the population as a whole. The article notes that “incidence rates for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and maternal opioid use increased nearly 5-fold in the United States between 2000 and 2012.”

Prevention and Treatment

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Prevention and Treatment

In order to take steps to prevent babies from being subjected to these often dangerous withdrawal symptoms, treatment centers in Burns, Nashville, and throughout the rest of Tennessee must make the availability of programming to treat opioid addiction known. Pregnant women need to understand that they will not be judged if they seek help. By raising awareness of the problem, as well as making the treatment services easily accessible, there is hope that this devastating epidemic can be minimized.