(UNDATED) - An alarming increase in the rate of drug dependent infants is being reported and state officials want to curb the problem.
The condition, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), occurs when expecting mothers take drugs that create the addictions in newborns. Babies diagnosed with NAS are given morphine and kept in the hospital until they can be weaned off the drugs.
During their withdrawal, infants are fussy, hard to calm down, have diarrhea, bad rashes, vomiting and life-threatening seizures.
Both legal and illegal narcotics have been linked to the withdrawals in newborns including cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methadone, codeine, oxycodone, OxyContin, Vicodin, Ritalin, Adderall, Paxil, Zoloft, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin and barbiturates, according to the National Institute of Health.
A task force comprised of both Indiana medical and legal experts is pushing for a law that would allow closer monitoring of mothers using drugs that cause NAS. The law would also provide some protection for expectant mothers if they voluntarily seek and stay in treatment for any addictions.
Natalie Robinson, coordinator of the Attorney General's Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, told members of the legislative Indiana Commission on Mental Health and Addiction the problem has reached epidemic levels.
"Even more startling than the higher risks, is the pain and suffering that a newborn with NAS endures after birth," she says. "Nobody really knows what the long-term developmental effects are or the baby's ability to learn later."
According to a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of newborns that have opiate drug withdrawal is more than triple what it was in just the last decade.
Robinson had told the committee that the "extreme shortage" of drug treatment services and medical professionals who are willing to treat expecting women with addictions is not helping to address the problem.
The task force hopes there will be new legislative measures passed in the next session including the requirement of all health providers to report cases of NAS to the state health department, regulation of prescription pain-killers like Tramadol and an increase in penalties for abusing or giving the drugs to others.
Other states, such as Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia and California, have made combating prescription drug abuse a priority with mandatory continuing education on pain management or specials laws for pregnant women who have addictions.
Watching for signs:
Medical professionals are specially trained to observe signs and symptoms of drug withdrawal in newborns which include:
W -- wakefulness
I -- irritability
T -- tremors, temperature instability, tachypnea
H -- hyperactive, high-pitched cry, hypertonic, hyperacusis
D -- diarrhea, diaphoreses
R -- rhinorrhea, rub marks
A -- apnea, autonomic dysfunction
W -- weight loss
A -- alkalosis
L -- lacrimation
Other symptoms include hiccups, excessive yawning, excessive sneezing and seizures. Medical officials say that if withdrawal symptoms are not properly treated the seizures experienced by newborns can result in death. If you know someone who is abusing drugs, health care providers say you should encourage the person to seek help.
Source: Community Hospital Anderson
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