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Born Addicted NAS: June 23, 2012

It’s on the rise across the nation.  Babies born addicted to prescription pain medications.  But doctors with The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida picked upon it years ago and took steps to treat it.

Born addicted, it might be hard to swallow but hospitals are seeing it on a regular basis.  It is so common the have given it a clinical name. 

“Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is a medical diagnose for a newborn who’s born drug dependent. In other words, that newborn was exposed to multiple drugs while the fetus was developing, says William Liu, a neonatologist with The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

The number of babies undergoing detox has risen dramatically; currently there are nine babies in this unit being weaned from prescription pain meds.

“They get carried a lot, they get held a lot. We never let a baby cry. And despite the fact that they’re on their medication to wean, they still cry and they still suffer very much, the symptoms of their withdrawal,” says Michelle Waddell, NICU Director with The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida was quick to recognize the problem and create an intervention protocol.  It starts in many cases before the babies are born, by targeting moms who may be on prescription pain drugs.

“If we believe the mother has a significant exposure to opioids, for example she’s a heroin addict or she is using drugs illicitly or she has a clear history of medical use of opioids during the entire pregnancy, then that newborn will be observed for a one week period in the hospital,” says Dr. Liu.

Babies determined to have NAS are scored and treated accordingly.

“Which at first is non-pharmacological treatment. Keep the baby comfortable, keep the environment subdued, low lighting, low noise levels. If the baby continues to show signs of withdrawal we treat the baby with opioids,” says Dr. Liu.

The withdrawal process takes weeks to months; the education process is ongoing.

“If you are taking an addictive type of medication, especially an opiate, the oxycontins and oxycodone and those types of drugs. That will go to your baby without any question without any doubt. And they will be born addicted,” says Waddell.