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Alarming Number of US Babies Born Addicted to Painkillers

Nicole Hill for Corbis

A new study reveals that about one baby an hour is born addicted to painkillers in the United States, reports HealthDay

The number of infants born with a serious drug withdrawal syndrome tripled over a nine-year study that researchers began in 2000. More than 13,000 babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome just in the last year of the study alone.

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Newborns who suffer from the inherent dependency passed on from their mothers’ ingestion of opiates (highly addictive prescription drugs) are irritable, experience heightened muscle tone (hypertonia), tremors, feeding intolerance, seizures, breathing difficulty, and possible damage to long-term brain development. The hospital stay for these babies average 16 days, where they undergo a painful period of withdrawal.

The real shame is that this syndrome is entirely avoidable.  Unfortunately though, researchers have found that use of prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, by pregnant women increased fivefold over the course of the study and show no signs of letting up.

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Doctors are working on ways of making treatment and care for these babies better, but are also attempting to place a larger importance on identifying and preventing a mother’s usage before and during pregnancy rather than dealing with it postpartum. 

Dr. Marie J. Hayes, a professor at the University of Maine and co-author of an accompanying editorial to the study stated, “The mothers are the environment for the baby, so if we want to protect the baby we have to go through mothers."