According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the United States has experienced a five-fold increase in the use of opioids by women who are pregnant. This results in a drug withdrawal in newborns known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), which can cause tremors, seizures, excessive crying, and poor feeding. Symptoms may appear right after birth or within three days after the baby is born. It’s estimated that every 25 minutes, a child is born with this condition. Newborns with NAS are more likely than other babies to also experience low birthweight and respiratory complications, according to the study.

What are opioids?

Opioids are types of drugs that include powerful pain relievers which are available by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and others; the illegal drug, heroin, is also included in the list of opioid drugs.

The NIDA has this to say about prescription opioids: “Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but they are frequently misused (taken in a different way or in a greater quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription).” These drugs produce euphoria in some people as well as pain relief, which can create a dependence on the drug. When misused or abused, these pain relievers can lead to a fatal overdose.

press release recently issued by the NIDA states heroin and synthetic opioids are causing a surge in cocaine-related overdose deaths. Although such deaths decreased between 2006 and 2010, cocaine-related overdose deaths increased after 2010, which scientists attribute to the use of opioids.

Helping New Moms and Their Babies

A hospital in Pennsylvania is expanding its efforts to help moms and newborns addicted to opioids through a recovery program. This medical facility sees about 35% of its newborns experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and therefore, in need of further medical treatment. The same hospital uses “volunteer cuddlers” to snuggle and comfort newborns experiencing withdrawal.

A story published last year by CNN states, “According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women who are pregnant should have medically-assisted opioid therapy that at least temporarily replaces the drugs they are abusing with opioids that are more stable, like methadone. Withdrawal should be discouraged during pregnancy if opioid-assisted therapy is available.” The story also stated that a woman who quits cold turkey could put her unborn at risk, increasing chances of preterm labor, and even the death of her baby.

Find Help for Yourself or Someone You Know

If you or someone you know has an issue with opioids or other drugs, find help at a local organization. You’ll find a listing of local resources here:

If you think you might be pregnant and it’s not a planned pregnancy, contact True Care Women’s Resource Center’s Scheduling Line at 307-215-9684 for your free pregnancy test.