57 percent increase from 2007 to 2015 in babies born addicted to drugs in Maryland

Posted at 8:29 PM, Jan 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-18 20:29:31-05

Across the country, a baby is brought into the world dependent on drugs every 20 minutes.  The infants are suffering from what's called neonatal abstinence syndrome.

It’s a serious health issue fueled by the abuse of prescription pain killers and heroin.

"I would say that the majority of our patients with neonatal abstinence syndrome have been exposed to some form of opiate or narcotic in utero," said Dr. Jim Rost, Medical Director of the NICU at Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Center.

The newborns are going through withdrawal, and need to be weaned off their addiction.  The pint-sized patients wail inconsolably, can tremble and shake, sometimes grasping for breath.

"It is a problem that is significant not just for our state, not just for our region, but for the entire country,” Rost said.  “We've experienced an incredible upsurge in the number of babies who are exposed and develop neonatal abstinence syndrome."

In the last decade, the number of infants suffering with this problem has skyrocketed.  Here in Maryland, from 2007 to 2015 there has been a nearly 57 percent increase in babies born addicted to the drugs their mothers did while pregnant.        

The newborns are watched closely, many of them spending weeks or months at the hospital getting better.

"Allowing them to recover slowly but surely, and hopefully go home with a healthy home and a healthy baby," said Rost.

Healthcare workers are concerned about the explosion of drug dependent infants.  Last year, the Maryland Patient Safety Center launched a Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Collaborative with more than 30 birthing hospitals in the state.  By tackling the issue together, the group hopes to better care for these tiny victims.

"The overarching goal of the collaborative is to elevate the standard of care and to help hospitals learn from each other, so if we've overcome a challenge we share that with our neighboring hospitals throughout the state," Rost said.

Much like the so-called crack-baby epidemic of the 1980s, there is growing worry that babies exposed to opioids before birth will face developmental and educational problems.  However, the long-term effects are still not clear.

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