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Opiate Use during Pregnancy

Opiate Use during Pregnancy Up 500% from a Decade Ago

University of Michigan researchers say that between 2000 and 2009 opiate use and dependency among pregnant women rose by almost 500% and the numbers of infants being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome rose by about 300%.

According to the CDC, opiate abuse is up about 400% from a decade ago, but has this dramatic upswing in general use translated to more pregnant women abusing opiates and to more infants being born dependent?

That’s what University of Michigan neonatal researchers wanted to know and to find out they took a look at hospital billing data from across the US.

The Results

  • From 2009 to 2009, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) diagnoses increased from 1.2 per 1000 hospital births to 3.39 per 1000 hospital births – an almost 3 fold increase. Over that same time period the number of pregnant women abusing or dependent on opiates increased by almost 500%, from 1.19 in 1000 to 5.63 in 1000.
  • In 2009, an estimated 14 359 infants were born with NAS, which equates to one about every 10 minutes.

Lead study author Stephen Patrick explains that infants born with NAS are smaller and at greater risk of sudden death. Some of the symptoms of NAS include extreme irritability, seizures, muscle rigidity and inconsolable crying. Patrick says that hospital staff can generally identify infants with NAS by their cries alone, saying, "It's like a colicky baby times 10."

To ease the pains of neonatal withdrawal, infants with NAS are generally given methadone and then slowly weaned off opiates over a period of weeks.

The full study results are published in the current edition of JAMA.

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