Babies born dependent on drugs:
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) occurs because a pregnant woman takes opiate or narcotic drugs such as heroin, codeine, oxycodone (oxycotin) methadone or buprenorphine. This women opiate addiction allows harmful substances to pass through the placenta that connects the baby to its mother in the womb. The baby becomes addicted along with the mother.
At birth, the baby is still dependent on the drug. Because the baby is no longer getting the drug after birth, symptoms of withdrawal may occur. Alcohol and other drug use during pregnancy can also cause problems in the baby. Babies of mothers who use other addictive drugs (nicotine, amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, marijuana), may have long-term problems.
Some babies with severe symptoms may need medicine such as methadone and morphine to treat withdrawal symptoms. The goal of treatment is to prescribe the infant a drug similar to the one the mother opiate addict used during pregnancy and slowly decrease the use over time. This helps wean the baby off the drug and relieves some of the withdrawal symptoms.
Dr. Stephen Ragatz has been a neonatologist for 30 years. He takes care of dependent newborns at St. Joseph’s hospital in Milwaukee where the number of babies born addicted to drugs is up 11 percent in the last five years.
Babies born dependent with an opiate addiction are in pain!
“They’re irritable. They don’t eat well. They don’t sleep well. They may have a fever. They vomit. They have diarrhea. They are inconsolable. They are very tough to care for,” says Dr. Ragatz.
The NICU at St. Joseph’s now has a special area to care for all NAS babies. They need to be held, wrapped, and they can’t be exposed to bright lights or noise. The hospital decided it was best to have a separate area for those newborns within the NICU.
The hospital also runs a special program to follow-up with families to see how dependent babies are faring as they grow up. “We want to know how they turn out and we want to know if there is something we can do for them to help them turn out the best they can,” Dr. Ragatz says.
As far as eradicating the problem from happening in the first place, there needs to be a strong family presence, education at an early age, and vision of a clear pathway for the potential opiate addict to better their life.