While it was previously assumed that alcohol consumption by pregnant mothers posed a great risk to unborn children, manifesting in some cases as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, an alarming new study from the US shows that it is not just alcohol consumption that poses dangers to babies but also the consumption of opiates.
A new research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that the number of babies born with opiate withdrawal has increased threefold over the past 10 years. According to the study, which covered around 4,000 hospitals in the US, 1 in every 1,000 babies born in 2009 showed symptoms of opiate withdrawal. In that year alone, a total of 13,500 babies were born suffering from withdrawal, almost one every hour, according to the study and for this period it was also observed that "legal or illegal" opiate abuse in women had risen almost fivefold and that in many cases it was prescription drug abuse and not that of illegal substances that was the cause of the increase of opiate abuse with the Centre for Disease Control or the CDC reporting that 2011 saw painkiller addiction reach “epidemic proportions.”
The report also noted that those babies born with opiate withdrawal then had to be weaned off the drug using methadone. Symptoms for the afflicted babies included seizures, restlessness, breathing and feeding problems with, in some cases, the babies being born prematurely or even smaller. University of Michigan's Dr. Stephen Patrick, who worked on the study, explained, "They appear uncomfortable, sometimes they breathe a little faster. They're scratching their faces," according to a report of BBC.
Furthermore, the study said that babies with opiate withdrawal had to spend much longer in hospitals than healthy newborns, up to 2 weeks more than normal cases.
The study did mention, however, that not all babies, whose mothers take opiates during pregnancy, are born with symptoms of opiate withdrawal. The study also highlights the effect of such a high number of cases on medical budgets, pointing out that most cases were found among those women who were entitled to financial support and this was quite a strain on budgets. Furthermore, the study cautioned against the use of painkillers, as while necessary, the drugs pose a risk of addiction, with Dr. Patrick saying that the study showed “that opiates are becoming a big problem in this country." Also, the Journal of the American Medical Association editorial said that opiates were "overprescribed, diverted and sold illegally, creating a new opiate addiction pathway and a public health burden for maternal and child health."