The widespread abuse of prescription opiate drugs by pregnant women has reached epidemic proportions, with the number of babies born suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms rising sharply over the past decade. New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has investigated this troubling phenomenon for the first time, as well as attempted to quantify the increase in costs associated with treating newborns exposed to opiates. The study is being released early to coincide with a presentation of the new information at the Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting.
Free Opiate Drug Birth Defects Lawsuit Evaluation: If you or a loved one has a child who was diagnosed with birth defects after being exposed to a prescription opiate drug in the womb, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing a suit against the manufacturer of the drug and we can help.
What’s the problem?
According to the JAMA study, every hour in the United States a baby is born exhibiting opiate withdrawal symptoms, which equals out to about 13,500 babies a year. Opiate withdrawal in infants is known clinically as neonatal abstinence syndrome, and can lead to complications including:
- breathing problems
- difficulty feeding
Many babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome require prolonged hospitalization so they can be treated with methadone or morphine to wean them off the prescription medications their mothers used while pregnant.
“The incidence has gone crazy and I think it has the potential to become a national or international issue,” said Marie J. Hayes, a clinical neuroscientist at the University of Maine, and an author of an editorial accompanying the study. “People who previously might not have used heroin or the needle are more likely to use prescription opiates.”
It is still uncertain as to whether infants born exposed to opiate drugs will suffer serious lifelong side effects. During the 1980s, there was widespread concern that babies born to cocaine-addicted mothers would experience developmental delays or other persistent complications, but subsequent research found that such problems were much more likely to occur if the child was born into an unstable family with economic hardship, poor education, and other vague socioeconomic factors.
The JAMA study analyzed two databases that included a representative sample of patients from across the country, and found that, between 2000 and 2009:
- the number of pregnant mothers using opiate drugs jumped fivefold;
- the number of infants suffering from opiate withdrawal nearly tripled;
- the average cost of treating each baby climbed to $53,400 from $39,400;
- Medicaid paid for more than three-quarters of the cases, due to the fact that many of the mothers were from impoverished backgrounds.
According to the research, babies suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome spent an average of 16 days in the hospital, most often in intensive care units, which are particularly expensive because of the specialized nursing care. Over the past dozen years, the length of time withdrawing infants spend in ICUs has not decreased, suggesting that treatment for the condition has not improved or become more efficient over time.
Methods of treatment usually begin with attempting to soothe the babies by cuddling them and placing them in rooms with low lighting. If symptoms do not subside, the infants are given small doses of medications related to what they were exposed to in the womb. The drug is then slowly tapered off until the baby is no longer withdrawing. This is a delicate and dangerous process, as these drugs are extremely easy to overdose babies with, and those weaned prematurely can wind up getting rehospitalized.
Yet despite the risks, the vast majority of the medical literature seems to suggest that it is more effective to treat babies with a drug related to what their mothers took during pregnancy than to just treat the symptoms of the baby’s withdrawal. However, most experts agree that the best way to deal with a woman’s drug addiction is to do so before they are pregnant.
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The Product Liability & Defective Drug Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in prescription opiate drug lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new birth defects cases in all 50 states.
Free Opiate Drug Birth Defects Lawsuit Evaluation: If you or a loved one has a child who was born with congenital defects after being exposed to a prescription opiate drug in the womb, you should contact our law firm immediately. You may be entitled to compensation by filing an opiate drug birth defect suit and we can help.