Babies born addicted to opiates: The number of individuals addicted to opiate-based prescription painkillers has been on the rise for years. While the nation struggles with how to curb the growing dependency on painkillers, another serious issue has emerged. The number of pregnant women who are addicted to opiates has also increased, leading to an unprecedented number of newborns who are addicted to them as well.
Babies Born Addicted Numbers Rise
Horizon Health Services, one of the largest drug treatment facilities in New York, reported the dramatic rise in pregnant women seeking help that has occurred at their location. In 2013, 29 pregnant women sought treatment, but in 2014 that number had grown to 126. Based on the current year-to-date numbers for 2015, they expect another increase, coming in around 132. Even more alarming, the New York State Health Department reports that 554 babies were born addicted to opiates between the years of 2010 and 2012.
Clinically called “neonatal abstinence syndrome”, opiate-addicted babies are not just increasing in New York. Nationwide the number of babies born addicted to opiates increased 300 percent between 2000 and 2009, according to testimony provided before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Drug Substitute Therapies Aren’t a Treatment
One common solution to the painkiller addiction epidemic, which New York is utilizing, is the administration of buprenorphine. Also called Suboxone, this drug can wean an individual off of both illegal opiates, such as heroin, as well as legal prescription based painkillers. However, buprenorphine is not a treatment for opiate addiction. It is simply a substitute drug for opiates which comes with a host of problems associated with it. Most concerning, is that individuals can become addicted to the buprenorphine just as they did to the previous opiate. Thus, they have simply switched one addiction for another and have not actually detoxified.
While buprenorphine is a viable treatment option for pregnant women, it simply keeps them stable throughout the remainder of the pregnancy rather than treating their addiction. By stabilizing the dosage of opiates, pregnant women who are addicted to opiates are at a much lesser risk of experiencing withdrawal, which poses a far greater risk to the fetus than taking buprenorphine. While states and political representatives continue to focus on expanding access to buprenorphine, it is clear that the true answer to stopping the rise of opiate addiction in the United States lies elsewhere.
More Comprehensive Solutions Are Needed
The underlying cause of opiate addicted babies is that physicians simply over prescribe painkillers to the general population. Opiate-based painkillers are powerful drugs that should only be prescribed as a last resort method of managing pain. Too many physicians prescribe opiate-based painkillers but then are not equipped to treat their patients once they become addicted. In fact, many physicians are not even properly trained in identifying the symptoms of addiction in their patients, which further contributes to the problem.
Pregnant women giving birth to opiate-addicted babies is just another consequence of an issue that has not been dealt with. Reducing the national dependency on opiates requires education and awareness nationwide. It also requires improving the availability and accessibility to mental care and effective drug treatments.
Rise in opiate addiction spurs call for more treatment options. The Buffalo News. Retrieved on July 13, 2015.