The number of babies in the U.S. born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has more than doubled in less than a decade, findings of a new study have shown.
The condition is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that develop after babies become addicted to the drugs that their mothers used during pregnancy which include heroin or prescription opiates.
Babies who suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome may experience seizures, tremors, poor feeding, excessive crying, fever, sleep problems, rapid breathing and blotchy skin color.
These babies often remain in the hospital for several weeks after they are born where they receive low doses of methadone, which is used to wean addicts off of heroin and prescription opiates.
In the new study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Sept. 26, researchers have found that the rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome linked to the mother's use of opiates, which include heroin and prescription narcotics such as Vicodin and codeine, increased from 2.8 cases for every 1,000 births in 2009 to 7.3 for every 1,000 births in 2013.
The findings are in line with earlier findings that point to an increase in the birth of babies who suffer from opiate withdrawal. Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed a bigger increase in incidences of opioid addiction in babies from 1.5 for every 1,000 births in 1999 to six for every 1,000 in 2013.
"The United States is experiencing a rapid increase in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) caused by in utero exposure to prescription and illicit (heroin) opioids," study researcher Joshua Brown, from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and colleagues wrote in their study.
"Increases in NAS correlate with the well-documented increase in prescription opioid abuse."
Use of drug such as opioids during pregnancy can lead to premature birth and health problems for the baby. Children born to mothers who use drugs while pregnant face increased risks for birth defects, low birth weight and small head circumference.
Although treatment given to babies suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome can ease symptoms, it does not necessarily address the developmental problems that these children may have later on in life.
In 2015, the U.S. government passed a law that aimed to address the rising cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome in the country. The Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015 law requires the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study on the condition and come up with recommendations to prevent and treat it.