Opioids’ hidden consequence
Babies withdraw from addictive drugs, too; it’s called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
Watching a newborn tremble like a leaf, vomit like the girl in “The Exorcist,” be as stiff as a board, cry like a pterodactyl and be as restless as a cocaine addict is absolutely heart-wrenching.
As a mother-baby registered nurse, I care for drug-addicted babies too often. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incidence of NAS increased 300 percent from 1999 to 2013, proportionate to our U.S. opioid epidemic.
At my hospital, NAS babies are monitored for five days for severe withdrawal, and if needed, admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit and treated with morphine. These babies stay for weeks.
This is a burden to our public health due to the costly hospital stay and the need for more nurses. The CDC estimates that a baby with NAS has an average hospital charge of $66,700, while a normal newborn’s cost of care is $3,500.
NAS is a hidden consequence of our opioid epidemic that needs to be brought to the forefront in legislation. No, these mothers shouldn’t be thrown in prison; drug addiction is an illness, like diabetes. We don’t throw noncompliant diabetics in prison, but find treatments for them.
Improving treatment programs for drug-addicted mothers is a priority to protect our babies.