Florida Breeding Painkiller Addicts (Literally.)


Doctors in the United States are seeing more and more infants born addicted to painkillers. These infants experience what’s called neonatal abstinence syndrome as they undergo withdrawal from the addictive drugs their mothers took during pregnancy. Most often these are narcotic painkillers such as oxycodone, morphine or hydrocodone, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And guess who heads up the list for newborns born addicted? You guessed it, Florida. 

Since 1995 the number of newborns addicted jumped 10-fold in Florida while only tripling nationwide. Well, not only tripling. That is a terrible number regardless. There should be no infants born addicted, but you get our point.

“These infants can experience severe symptoms that usually appear within the first two weeks of life,” said lead researcher Jennifer Lind, a CDC epidemiologist.

The symptoms can include anything from seizures, fever, excessive crying, to tremors, vomiting and diarrhea. And this can last for a few weeks up to a month. I mean c’mon we all know how horrendous withdrawal is for addicts. They avoid it, like their life depends on it, cause in some ways it does. But can you imagine an infant going through this?

Dr. David Mendez is a neonatologist at Miami Children’s Hospital. He said, “Being in Florida, I can tell you there’s been an explosion in the number of babies going through neonatal abstinence syndrome. It’s clearly related to the exposure moms have to all narcotic painkillers.”

Luckily the infants do recover. Sometimes all it takes is a quiet environment, but almost all of them need treatment with morphine or the anticonvulsant phenobarbital to quell seizures and other withdrawal symptoms.

The Report’s Solution

The report which used data from three Florida hospitals cites a need for improved counseling and treatment of drug abusing and drug dependent women earlier in pregnancy. Previous studies have found that addiction narcotic painkillers can increase the risk for premature births, low birth weight, and birth defects. Some of the birth defects are heart defects and defects of the brain and spine.

2009 National Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

In 2009 the national incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome was 3.4 per 1,000 births. Less than Florida’s 4.4 per 1000 births. Florida officials alarmed by the increase, last year asked help from the CDC.

According to the report, 242 infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome were identified in three Florida hospitals in the two year period between 2010 and 2011.

The researchers found that 99.6% of these babies had been exposed to narcotic painkillers and had serious medical complications.

Nearly all of the addicted infants required admission to the neonatal intensive care unit, and average length of stay was 26 days, the investigators found.

What About The Mothers?

The mothers are often incapable of caring for their babies. And only 10 percent of babies’ mothers had been referred for drug counseling or rehab during pregnancy even though many tested positive in urine tests.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is obviously preventable simply by not taking drugs. But is it really that simple.

Either way from conception to birth, a pregnant woman is responsible for what she puts in her body. Florida hospitals are now required to notify the state’s Department of Children and Families of any infant with traces of narcotics in the blood.

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