Hospitals throughout Maryland are forced to deal with an ever-increasing number of babies exposed to drugs. As the opioid epidemic grows, so do the youngest victims of opioid addiction. Infants born with opiates or narcotics in their system will have difficulty feeding and suffer tremors, which are common signs of drug withdrawal.
Over the last nine years, the number of newborns exposed to alcohol, narcotics, opiates and other drugs, while in the womb has jumped by 56.6 percent. In 2015, 1,419 babies were born with drugs in their systems. The majority of the babies are born to mothers, who have a history of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse, which is the primary cause of fatal overdose in the state. The others are born to mothers, who have a history of frequent cocaine and marijuana use.
The babies are placed in the neonatal intensive care unit, where they are weaned off the drugs. The long-term health consequences cannot be determined at this early stage of life. Many people are comparing the new wave of addicted babies to the crack babies of the 1990s. Even though many physicians had predicted that those would grow up with major health problems, studies proved them wrong.
“There is a perceptible increase,” said Dr. Howard J. Birenbaum, director of the division of neonatology at Greater Baltimore Center. “We certainly have babies born here that end up in neonatal intensive care unit requiring treatment we didn’t see 10 years ago. We all seem to have babies in the NICU who are suffering from withdrawal.”
A new standard of care known as “Cuddle” is being utilized to soothe drug-exposed newborns. Hospitals are working with physicians in an effort to identify pregnant mothers that use drugs and those that do not seek medical care prior to delivery.
When babies exposed to drugs withdraw, this is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is characterized by common symptoms related to the type of drug the mother used, along with how much and how long the drug was taken.
These babies spend on average of 26 days in the hospital, but the Maryland Patient Safety Care Center is hoping to find a solution to speed up recover time and reduce the remittance frequency. Currently babies are being placed in quiet rooms, with low lighting and volunteers are taking turns rocking and soothing the babies. Some hospitals are also utilizing music and massage therapy.
A large number of the babies are given methadone and morphine to offset seizures and weight loss. The long-term effects of being exposed to opioids in utero are not known.