Increase in Number of Babies Born with Drug Withdrawal
There are staggering numbers out of Missouri when it comes to the number of babies born with withdrawal symptoms stemming from the drug use of their mothers.
It’s not unusual for nurses in the Mercy Hospital NICU to be caring for multiple babies going through drug withdrawals.
“We definitely see them regularly. I would say monthly we have a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome,” says Kristin Evans, a neonatal nurse practitioner
Also called NAS, most commonly seen in babies exposed to opioids. According to the Missouri Hospital Association, the number of babies born with NAS in the state has increased 538 percent over the past 10 years. Nurses at Mercy feel the strain of that increase every day.
“They require a lot more attention than a normal newborn would require so they cry a lot, they’re in pain a lot so nurses are having to spend extra time holding them,” says Evans.
When the symptoms get to be too much, there’s a scoring system they follow to determine when to give them morphine. But what’s most helpful to the babies is skin to skin contact with a parent. Evans says getting the parents there can be difficult in many cases.
Those parents will meet social worker Sharon James. She’s seen an increase in her workload over the past few years.
“I evaluate their entire situation. What is she using how long has she been using,” says James.
They report every case where a baby has tested positive for drugs to the state. Their main objective is try to get the mother into treatment, they want to keep the family intact.
“That’s really what you strive for but what we always have to keep in mind is we have to make that babies safety and well being the primary focus,” says James.
But getting those babies well takes a lot of time and resources.
“It’s a big burden financially for the hospital and the entire health care industry. It’s something that’s really making an impact negatively on health care costs,” says Evans.
And with addiction a growing epidemic nationwide, it’s a problem without a clear solution.
Babies born with NAS can also deal with issues later in life like learning and behavioral disabilities.